The Examiners Who Fail

Dr. Rajas Deshpande

30 January at 02:43 · 
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

DM Neurology final exam case presentations.

The peak of academic tension. 

Eight of us waiting, crowded in the side room. Die will Do.

Beyond tremors, sweating and palpitations, in the realm of renunciation. Cornered cats, with the defiant expression of “they won’t actually kill us” on a tearful face. Books dangling in the hands, cannot understand a word. Hope the examiner is kind enough to humiliate only gently and fail without verbal insults.

As luck would have it, the University has chosen the most dreaded and non-corrupt set of four who are known to be only negatively influenced if at all. Drs. A, B, C and D: all serenely sarcastic and whimsically genius stalwarts. Even on a supernormal day of ward rounds, most resident doctors would hesitate to face them, and they were the examiners for our final exam! Medical student’s luck!!

Dr. B entered our panicked sideroom with Dr. A. 

“Please keep all your Xeroxed books away now, my darlings. You cannot learn anything at this stressful time” smiled Dr. B, sarcasm disguised as sweetness. He thoroughly enjoys this.

Dr. A, the most dreaded, laughed aloud.

“Only three out of the eight appearing candidates will pass today. Be prepared. If you fail, it does not mean you are any less than others, it only means you need to study better, know better., and more hard work is required” said Dr. A.

The desire to physically attack him was evident on some faces, who immediately looked at the floor. To slog hard 24/7 for three years and then to be left at the mercy of a single day’s assessment! We gave up the remaining traces of hope and smiled.

Exam started.

Six passed.

Afterwards, Dr. A came in again with other examiners. “You must be upset with me for spoiling your mood before the exams. But I feel that a doctor must know how to perform under stress. In every complicated case you face, you will have to deal with relatives who are not always civil. There will be multiple bad cases at a single time. There may be news against you in the media. There may be problems at your own home. You may be sick yourself. There will be no stress-free day in the life of a doctor. One must therefore learn to perform the best one can, in the most adverse situation. I wanted to see today how you perform under stress. This will prepare you for your future.” he said and left.

I learnt a lot that day. True, but did it have to be in the final exam?

One of my professors, Dr. S, a genius in Neurology, argued during his final exams with one of the examiners about a patient’s finding. When they verified by calling in a textbook, he was found to be correct. They failed him, saying “you need to learn a lot more”.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Medical exams are a gamble, with no defined syllabus especially at higher levels. The examiners themselves may not agree upon some finding / diagnosis. Usually they know what to expect from a student to pass, and are considerate of student’s inexperience. But like good and bad moods, there are good and bad performance days, and on some days, a student does not perform best under stress. Every medical student goes through this scare for three to eight years: that the internals have to be ‘satisfied” every which way they want so as to insure oneself against a bad performance in the finals.

While many examiners are quite mature and understanding, some internals take excess undue advantage and exploit the students (especially the postgraduates) for their personal gains, from research to parties, from tender-touch to excess attention. Some examiners behave openly like Gods, some secretly like devils. Some make exams a dirty playground of their perpetual inferiority complexes and ugly desires that range from liquids to solids.

Add to this regional bias, gender bias, caste bias and above all, the “smartness bias”.. smarter students bear the maximum brunt of confidence misinterpreted as insubordination. Attractive students need to turn on special shields. Some examiners have even failed / given poor marks to candidates just for ‘being too good friends’ with their (the examiner’s) favourite ‘student-crush’.

While extremely organised discipline, hard work, good behaviour with patients and colleagues, and honest academic effort is mandatory to train every doctor, we can definitely do away with the undue advantage taking of this exam system by some examiners. 

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Just give the student during the same exam a chance to also ask the examiner an equal number of questions in camera, and record the performance. This alone will solve half the problem many students face.

Shouting at the students during exams, keeping students stranded, poor exam organisation, examiners not reporting in time, long tea and lunch breaks while students keep waiting, examiners humiliating students, cracking jokes about or laughing at their expense, and partiality: asking easy questions to those favoured and difficult to those disliked: all these ills must go from not only medical, but every University exam. All vivas must be conducted in camera preferably.

It is high time that a “student feedback” system is started in all colleges, universities and exams, where every student while leaving the institute / passing the exams comments and assesses every teacher and examiner. This will better serve the new generation talent than the traditional intimidation.

Good teachers will never take students for granted. The new generation students are never afraid of failing; they only want fair-play. The examiners should pass the same exams too.

Posted in the honour of hard working, deserving medical students who suffer in their career due to bad examiners.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Please feel free to share without editing.

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