“I have serious doubts about the HPAT system, and I am very concerned that the test has simply become a revenue generator for expensive online coaching courses. I would echo the view of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, that the exam is adding yet another financial barrier to students hoping to embark on a career in medicine.
“The HPAT exam was introduced in 2009, under the premise of being a test that would identify students that are best suited to medicine; who in effect have the right personality and manner for the job. In the intervening three years, expensive coaching courses offering ‘HPAT prep’ have sprung up online, adding yet another financial hurdle to successfully gaining entry to a medical course.
“We now have a situation where a student who has achieved the maximum 625 points in the Leaving Cert cannot use those points to their full capacity due to the way the system is calculated. The minimum requirement for entry to some medical courses is an Honours C3 in Chemistry, Biology and Physics. So a student who gets these results and scores well in the HPAT may get into medicine, while the student who got all A1s and didn’t score well in the HPAT is left disappointed. How is this fair?
“There are a number of anomalies in the HPAT system. I have requested information about the exam from the Department of Education, but I was turned down because the Department does not administer the test. In the second part of the HPAT exam, which focuses on empathy questions, girls are outscoring boys. Does this necessarily mean women make better doctors? Furthermore, foreign students do not have to sit the HPAT exam, even though they will most likely be working in our hospital system. Why shouldn’t they be subject to the same entrance criteria?
“Surely it is the responsibility of our third level institutions to ensure medical students leave college with the requisite skills and professional manner to work as doctors. As a former school principal, I know the incredible effort young ambitious people put into their Leaving Cert exam. In my view, those who have scored the maximum amount of points have proved they have the commitment and work ethic to be a doctor.
“The HPAT exam was supposed to open up access to medical courses, but I am concerned it is having the opposite effect. Recent reports suggest more than 50% of HPAT candidates take coaching courses, putting them in a superior position to those who cannot afford it. As a result the HPAT exam means the playing field for getting into medicine is more unequal than ever. I think it is time we reviewed the system, and consider who it is really benefitting. ”