University of Otago launches investigation after medical school overseas electives rort

The University of Otago.
The University of Otago. Photo credit: Getty Images

The University of Otago has launched an investigation after several students in its medical school used fake documents to take holidays instead of doing their overseas electives.

As part of their course, final year students must complete a 12-week elective either in New Zealand or abroad to gain practical experience. However, it was revealed in 2019 that many went on holiday instead of completing their work placements, then submitted misleading reports.

An investigation conducted by the university at the time found 53 final year students, or 21.5 percent of the year group, were involved in the rort.

University of Otago Vice Chancellor Harlene Hayne has now launched an inquiry into the sixth-year electives, and the independently-chaired panel will comment on:

  • how the university administrates sixth-year electives, including how it communicates the expectations and requirements of these and how it assesses the suitability of placements
  • any information the inquiry receives that suggests similar misleading placement reports were submitted by trainee interns before 2019
  • the extent, if any, to which any University of Otago staff may have been aware of or encouraged insufficient elective attendance or the submitting of misleading elective reports, or gave 2019 students reasons to believe their actions were acceptable
  • the steps already taken by Otago Medical School to address the situation in the future and any other steps it could take with elective management, supervision, reporting, and monitoring practices.

The terms of reference for the inquiry say the University of Otago can't ask former students to be part of the investigation or take action against anyone who may be identified as guilty of misconduct in previous years. For that reason, identifying or making recommendations about students who may have had unsatisfactory attendance in their final year overseas electives is outside the scope of the investigation.

"The university notes its expectation that inadequate attendance at and submission of misleading overseas elective reports, while a major breach of integrity and trust, does not directly impact on a student's clinical competencies and that historic breaches are unlikely to be an issue of concern to the Medical Council," it says.

"However, where the inquiry receives what it considers to be a serious and credible disclosure or allegation it may recommend that the person making that disclosure or allegation contact the Medical Council.

"If serious allegations are made against identifiable staff, these would need to be considered by the university through an appropriate employment process, and the inquiry may recommend that the person making the allegation raise it with the director of human resources at the university."

The inquiry panel members are Australian National University Emeritus Professor Nicholas Glasgow, who will be the chairperson of the inquiry, Emeritus Professor Gareth Jones from the Department of Anatomy, and Professor Shelley Griffiths from the Faculty of Law.

Interested parties are invited to make written submissions relevant to the terms of reference of the inquiry. Submissions must be made by March 12.

It is expected the final report will be given to the Vice Chancellor on April 30, 2021.