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Fifteen Christchurch-based University of Otago medical students have "exercised very poor judgement'', breached trust and engaged in academic misconduct over overseas elective placements.
Otago Medical School acting dean Prof Barry Taylor said the university was "extremely disappointed'' about the conduct of the 15 sixth-year, trainee intern students.
The university said yesterday it had completed a formal investigation into initial, midyear rumours and had found academic misconduct.
"As part of the normal annual process, the MB ChB Board of Censors will now consider whether the students will be able to graduate in December as planned.''
Prof Taylor said the university's trust had been "seriously broken'' and the students involved had "breached academic and ethical standards''.
"We understand the public disquiet on learning of this breach of trust, and we will take appropriate steps to prevent this happening again,'' he said.
"The majority of our students have diligently completed their electives and reported honestly on them.
However, some students had "exhibited very poor judgement in taking varying, but significant, amounts of time away from placement activities to travel and holiday and then not accurately reflecting this in their elective reports.''
"They have let the school, the public, their colleagues and themselves down badly.''
Consideration would be given to whether each student had completed sufficient work over the past 12 months to be afforded a sixth year pass.
"The ethical considerations that arise will also be addressed by the MB ChB Fitness to Practice Committee, which can refer individuals to the Medical Council,'' he said.
Students funded their own travel and other elective expenses, but received government funding by way of a training grant paid monthly over the trainee intern year.
The university has called for the students to make the appropriate repayment of their stipend to the Government.
The overseas elective placement scheme itself would be reviewed in time for the 2020 electives, and the university was also "reviewing its own processes to mitigate the possibility of this kind of misconduct from occurring again''.
The students involved had to resubmit accurate elective reports and undertake extra work "addressing issues of integrity''.
Electives provided a 12-week opportunity for sixth-year students to broaden their personal experience before becoming junior doctors, the university said.
These opportunities were largely self-managed and there was flexibility about the activities undertaken, many students opting to experience medical practice in overseas clinics and hospitals.
No formal teaching or assessment was involved but students had to report on their activity.
The reported funding of $26,756 for each intern was an annual grant covering their training for the whole year, including within teams in New Zealand hospitals. Overseas placements formed a maximum of 12 weeks during the year, the university said.
If students chose an overseas placement, they paid their own fares if they travelled, and were not paid by the hospitals they worked for, the university said.
Late last week, the university disclosed that since the middle of this year, there had been rumours that some students were not completing their electives in Bosnia.
Some students also allegedly chose specific medical centres - including in Belize and Italy - where placements could be signed off within a week, before going on holiday.
It was also alleged that a group of students this year had used all or part of their placements as a holiday, lying in interviews and faking elective reports.
The university said yesterday that it had acted once concerns became known in mid-year, and an extensive investigation had begun throughout all three Otago campuses.