“What happened?” The woman in charge of Introduction to Clinical Medicine seemed concerned. I had failed the course’s written exam. “I don’t know.” And really, I didn’t. I had never failed an exam.
We second-year medical students had been farmed out in small groups to assorted ophthalmologists and ENT physicians in practice to learn eye and ear exams, with the classic DeGowin and DeGowin physical exam book for reference. I assumed any exam would be based on our clinical experiences and assigned text. The questions on the multiple-choice test seemed to have come out of nowhere.
After we had ruled out failure to show up, pay attention, personal crisis, substance use or other breakdown, she finally asked with wonderment—hadn’t I studied the old tests? I was shocked. Wasn’t that, umm, cheating? Oh no—everyone does that. You must look at the old tests.
Turned out, they were indeed on file in the library. As expected, the topics had not been covered in my small group or reading. I dutifully studied the answers, retook the test, and passed no problem. So that was how the game was played.
I was disillusioned. If that was what passed as education, who was being cheated?