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COSECSA fellowship exams postponed for 2020 due to pandemic

The College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) fellowship exams for this year have been postponed because of the developing pandemic on the African continent, this newspaper has been told.

The RCSI has had a very close working relationship with COSECSA since 2008, with the support of Irish Aid.  Through the collaboration programme, RCSI worked with COSECSA to design and build its e-learning system.  

“The 2020 clinical and viva fellowship exams were due to take place in December but have been postponed due to Covid-19 so there will be no graduates in 2020. We hope to see these exams rescheduled next year,” Ms Deirdre Mangaoang,  Programme Coordinator, RCSI/COSECSA Collaboration Programme told the Medical Independent (MI).  

However Ms Mangaoang added that “COSECSA is a ‘college without walls’ and has been delivering its academic component as e-learning since its inception.”

“It was one of the few colleges or schools in the world that did not have to make a sudden pivot to e-learning when the pandemic hit.  Online teaching has continued as usual.”

Ms Mangaoang noted that the pandemic’s greatest impact on COSECSA so far “has been that elective surgeries have been cancelled and so the hands-on training opportunities have decreased greatly for trainees.”

“It is unclear when elective surgery will re-start as it is thought that the peak of the pandemic has not been reached in Africa yet.  

“Another impact has been that trainees have not been able to exchange between member countries. Some COSECSA trainees who were on out-of-placement rotations in countries such as Japan have been unable to return since the pandemic began due to travel restrictions.”

She also noted that COSECSA was concerned about trainees’ and fellows’ health as they were working on the frontline during this pandemic.  “A surgeon in Sierra Leone – not a COSECSA fellow –  died last month from Covid-19.  He had been the country’s first and only surgical resident for a number of years,” added Ms Mangaoang. 

There were 85 COSECSA graduates in 2018 and 102 in 2019.  To date, COSECSA has graduated 450 surgeons since 1999.  

COSECSA’s membership and fellowship exams have had to be significantly modified in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.

“The written papers at both membership and fellowship will go ahead in September as planned.  The second part of the membership exam will go ahead as an in-person OSCE (objective standardised clinical exam) in December, but in each individual member country rather than having all the candidates and examiners coming together in one country,” Ms Mangaoang told MI.

“Some of the exam stations may be conducted by video-link with overseas examiners.  125 candidates from 13 countries are due to sit the membership exam this year which is the pre-requisite exam for entry into higher surgical training.   

“133 candidates were due to sit the fellowship exams in 2020, including the first two candidates for COSECSA’s fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery.  The fellowship clinical and viva exams in all nine specialties have been postponed until 2021.

“Irish surgeons have travelled to the COSECSA exams each year since 2010, and COSECSA examiners have come to RCSI to support exams here.  

“We hope that this reciprocal activity will continue in a modified manner this year.”

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