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Decision on trainee progression during the COVID-19 pandemic

On Thursday 23 September 2021, an email was sent out to RANZCO Fellows and trainees regarding trainee’s progression through the VTP during the pandemic. It was announced that the QEC and the RANZCO Board have voted not to assess trainees individually but rather to accredit all rotations of the past two years towards VTP time, irrespective of any COVID-19 interruptions.

Read the full text here:


Dear colleagues,

The QEC and the Board believe we should give all trainees certainty about whether COVID will affect their progress through the VTP and their total training time.

In 2020, COVID’s effect was fairly similar across all the networks. Based on overseas experience, it appeared that training would be severely affected for a prolonged period so a suspension of training was introduced. When the situation came under control faster than expected, it was decided that this suspension would be reversed and all training time accredited.

This year, we have faced a different challenge as some networks, notably SA and WA, have been minimally affected while Victoria and NSW have faced much longer shutdowns and greater interruptions to normal clinical work.

RANZCO needs to decide if this will impact on trainee’s progression through the VTP and whether any additional training time will be required.

Each trainee’s clinical and surgical exposure could be assessed individually and extra time allocated to compensate for any gaps. This would require clear endpoints to define a ‘satisfactory’ experience, such as the proportion of a subspecialty rotation completed and the number and range of surgical procedures undertaken over the four years of basic and advanced training. While minimum numbers will be part of the new curriculum, they are not yet in place and it is questionable whether introducing these retrospectively would be fair.

An individual approach like this could result in trainees graduating later than expected or missing out on already planned final year programs. Failing to graduate trainees ‘on time’ could impact on our ability to bring new trainees into the program in 2022 and beyond. It would also further penalise those trainees whose personal and professional lives have been most adversely affected by the pandemic.

It it important to remember that our current progression process requires trainees to pass a series of exams and term assessments, complete a research project and undertake an approved final year program. All current trainees ought to achieve that by the end of their five years of accredited training, so by right they ought to graduate. All of them will have passed RACE which should ensure that, irrespective of their clinical and surgical exposure, they have a satisfactory understanding of all the various subspecialty areas.

The QEC and the RANZCO Board have voted not to assess trainees individually but to accredit all of the rotations of the past two years towards VTP time, irrespective of any COVID interruptions. This way, all trainees will advance as they normally would.

Trainees should identify any areas where they feel they would benefit from more clinical exposure and, in those networks where it is possible to do so, Directors of Training and QEC Chairs will endeavour to provide appropriate opportunities. That will of course depend on the availability of suitable posts and may be more feasible in the final year. It is less likely this will be possible within basic and advanced training as rotations may already be allocated. Trainees may need to undertake self-directed learning and upskill themselves as best they can in deficient areas in preparation for the RANZCO examination.

For more information on this, kindly contact RANZCO Head of Education, Victoria Baker-Smith via email or at +61 2 9690 1001.

Kind regards,
Justin Mora

Last updated: September 24, 2021

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