2024 | Volume 25 | Issue 1


Dr Cathy Ferguson, an otolaryngology head and neck surgeon in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, has sat on RACS Court of Examiners for nine years. Over that time, she has risen through the ranks, first as a senior examiner and, for the past year and a half, as deputy chair in Aotearoa New Zealand.

It takes a lot of her time, albeit in busy bursts throughout the year. There is the three-day examiner workshop every February. Then there’s planning the exams—writing them and providing model answers—and marking them once they’ve been completed.

Examiners typically attend two or three Fellowship exams a year, which run over a weekend. For Aotearoa New Zealand (AoNZ) based examiners like Dr Ferguson that often means travel to Australia. (Only the General Surgery and Orthopaedic Surgery Fellowship exams are held in AoNZ.)

Besides the time commitment, Dr Ferguson says being an examiner means keeping abreast of the latest surgical knowledge and understanding advances in research, techniques and technology.

“You’re going into fine detail on points specific to your specialty. It’s the best continuing professional development (CPD) you’ll ever do,” says Dr Ferguson.

It sounds like a lot of work but according to Dr Ferguson that’s what makes it so rewarding.

“It’s the best gig at the College. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do for RACS. There’s a real satisfaction that goes with being an examiner.”

Another perk of the role is the collegiality of working closely alongside other surgeons, including those from different specialties and across the two countries.

“You meet people you’d otherwise never get to know and can learn so much from them, especially when you’re spending all day, every day with each other [over the course of an exam weekend]. I’ve made lifelong friendships.”

Dr Ferguson has long been interested in education and passing her knowledge to those earlier on in their surgical careers. It led her to be a registrar to the Court of Examiners (a role that no longer exists but was primarily about overseeing exams); to sit on the training committee for Otolaryngology in AoNZ; and to volunteer as an instructor for the Training in Professional Skills (TIPS) and Operating with Respect (OWR) courses.

Her involvement in the College goes further than training activities. Dr Ferguson has held every executive position within the AoNZ National Committee—from honorary treasurer to chair. She has also been chief censor for Specialist International Medical Graduates (SIMGs) and sat on Council for the maximum nine years, including a two-year stint as vice president.

Dr Ferguson was encouraged to join the Court of Examiners by colleagues who recognised her interest in education, but she believes it has appeal for a diverse range of surgeons.

“Diversity is something we strive for. It’s important to have a range of ethnicities, gender, expertise, specialty interests.”

She says it would be good to see more support for rural surgeons who may find it hard to cover time away for exams.

Vacancies on the Court are advertised each year from September to November. To be eligible, you must be a Fellow with at least five years of independent practice post Fellowship and be CPD compliant.

Find out more about the Court of Examiners.