The COVID-19 crisis has significantly disrupted RACS training activities, due to RACS’ responsibilities to contain and mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the Australian and New Zealand communities and protect the health of Fellows, Trainees, International Medical Graduates (IMGs) and our staff. 

This update follows previous communication distributed on 6 March, 11 March and 13 March 2020 and reflects decisions made at meetings of the RACS Education Board Executive on 12 March and the RACS Board of Surgical Education and Training on 13 March 2020.

Exams
The RACS Fellowship Exam sitting in April-May has been postponed until further notice, as first advised on 11 March 2020. In addition, the upcoming Generic Surgical Sciences Exam (GSSE), Specialty-specific Surgical Sciences Exams (SSE) and Clinical Exam (CE) sittings in June have now been postponed until further notice. RACS will provide all exam candidates with a minimum of three months’ notice when a decision to reinstate exams has been made. The Court of Examiners are convening on the evening of Monday 16 March with the Committee of SSE and CE meeting on Thursday 19 March. 

Mandatory courses
All RACS face-to-face events including courses are postponed until further notice and all enrolments have been suspended. Alternative arrangements are being urgently explored. Should any courses be rescheduled, a minimum of three months’ notice will be provided to participants.

Trainee progression through SET
Trainees will have significant concerns about their ability to achieve the requirements of their Surgical Education Training (SET) program for progression. No Trainees will be penalised if impacted, however an extension of training may be necessary in some instances to allow mandatory requirements to be met. Should an extension of training be necessary, the maximum time to complete SET will also be extended.

RACS face-to-face events (including ASC)
All RACS face-to-face events have been postponed until further notice. Should any events be rescheduled, a minimum of three months’ notice will be provided to participants. The Annual Scientific Congress (ASC) 2020 physical meeting has been cancelled following the Australian government’s advice banning large gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, we will also not proceed with the convocation ceremony which is part of the RACS ASC.

For those already registered, previous cancellation deadlines will not be enforced and penalties will not apply. 

Trainee selection
Trainee selection in 2020 for 2021 will need to be subject to alternative non-face-to-face delivery mechanisms and available capacity in the health system. Updates will be provided as soon as more information is available.

Clinical training activity
It is likely that significant disruption to the usual provision of health services will occur over the coming months. These may include the cancellation of elective theatre cases, outpatient clinics and clinical meetings.  Within these limitations, clinical training activities at a local level should continue as much as possible. Where these issues significantly affect Trainee experience (e.g. logbook case numbers and competency assessments), Specialty Training Boards will consider these circumstances on a case-by-case basis. An extension of training may be necessary in some instances to allow mandatory requirements to be met. Should an extension of training be necessary, the maximum time to complete SET will also be extended.

Non-essential travel and leave
Fellows, Trainees and IMGs are advised to follow the advice of local health departments with respect to non-essential travel and leave, considering the potential impact of self-isolation requirements on clinical service and training.

Health, testing, quarantine, sick leave and general support
Fellows, Trainees and IMGs should monitor their own health and follow the advice of local health departments with respect to the use of personal protective equipment, testing, self-isolation and treatment if required. In addition, Trainees with specific concerns regarding their health should seek appropriate advice from their GP and may utilise the RACS support service offered through Converge.

Elective surgery
We note there is ongoing discussions and decisions about elective surgery at various jurisdictions. Some have forewarned of shutting down elective surgery; others have converted wards to accommodate COVID-19 affected patients and others have opted to conduct elective surgery sooner. The best advice we can give you is to follow local hospital requirements.

Next steps and further updates
RACS will provide daily updates. Fellows, Trainees and IMGs should keep up to date via official channels including these updates, the RACS website and for Trainees to check with their RACSTA representatives for each Specialty, State, Territory and New Zealand.

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