No one wants to go on record. That’s how shameful this practice is.
It happens when recent grads apply for new licensure in a state and, before taking the examination that grants them entry to apply for a position or accept one, they’re offered the questions not only at the time of the test but in advance, too.
As you’ll doubtless recognize, this is what we call cheating. At least, that’s what we called it in vet school.
When I first came in contact with this uncouth reality I was a two-years-out-of-Penn practitioner with an MBA and two years of ER work under my belt. I’d recently moved to Miami from Philadelphia and was required to take the pesky examination that Florida requires for licensure.
Though variably onerous depending on the state, a state licensure examination is a standard requirement for any modern veterinary graduate who has cleared the national board hurdle. (I offer this explanation in case your memory is not so fresh on the subject.)
An Arcane Matter
In Florida’s case, the state license examination is an obnoxiously ineffective barrier by any measure. Not only is its gist relegated to the notoriously fickle and occasionally irrelevant “legal and regulatory” category, but its content (at least in my day and by all reports in current times) is arcane enough to offer an unsuspecting challenge to the unprepared.
It’s “just a laws test,” the state informed me when I registered to take it. I later received a thick-ish booklet to study.
Traveling four hours to Orlando, I discovered that, lo and behold, I was in the company of two camps, roughly divided:
- Those who had studied for the exam and had sought positions at small private practices or received offers from them.
- Those who had solid job offers at large hospitals and had been given the examination’s questions well in advance.
To be sure, there were those who didn’t reside in either of these arenas, like the Georgia roommates acquainted with a University of Florida grad who’d imparted the questions via an anonymous third party, and the California-schooled candidate whose father ran a sprawling hospital group.
I was floored. But while I passed the test by a whole lot less than I would have expected, I eventually forgot about the unfairness of it all. That is until I was recently reacquainted with the subject.
Now that I’ve finally gotten to that age when a second living situation seems remotely doable, I’ve been exploring the possibility of moving to Northern California for part of the year. And while I do love writing, not practicing is not a possibility. So I looked into the possibility of taking the notoriously-dreaded California licensure examination.
As it turns out, however, said source of consternation needn’t be so deeply feared for two reasons. First, it looks like California is happy to take my Florida license in good standing as a positive omen. (Thank God for reciprocity!) Second, if I were that youngling with less than five years of full-time work under her belt, I’d have options in the guise of in-advance exam questions.
Looks like Florida wasn’t so much of a strange fish after all. Not when you consider that the sources I hit up for information (one recent grad and two in-the-know California specialists) referenced the ease with which examination questions could be procured before the test.
The student explained that she had been offered this information during her California-based externship and that all her classmates who’d even remotely considered the West a future destination had shared in the spoils of her good fortune.
Meanwhile, the specialists almost identically advanced that this practice was not uncommon—not when young, desirable candidates face an onerous examination that makes recruiting the highest quality individuals (and sometimes their veterinarian partners) a serious impediment to best-quality medicine and competitive business practices alike.
Can’t argue with that, right?
Unfortunately, if our collective veterinary school experience is any guide, the answer is obvious: We would have been summarily expelled were we to have availed ourselves of any similar opportunities during our tenure as students.
Cheating in veterinary school is not only expressly verboten, it’s considered highly unethical, morally corrupt and never something to be discussed openly. So why is it that so many of our colleagues are willing to discuss this issue as if it’s a walk in the park?
Well, mostly, because they’ve been lulled by its ubiquity and their peers’ and employers’ blasé attitudes into thinking it’s an acceptable practice. But also because the exam is either completely irrelevant to a life in practice or because it serves as a barrier to entry for the clueless masses the state’s veterinary board hopes to keep at bay. Neither of which is a compelling reason to condone cheating.
Sadly, however, the tacit acceptance has unduly altered our profession’s cultural norms and eroded the moral fabric of our profession, setting uncomfortable precedents for those embarking on a career in veterinary medicine.
Indeed, while those involved may dismiss the moral morass they’re mired in with pithy claims to expedience, they do know their participation in these regulatory shenanigans is absolutely wrong.
When asked to go on the record to help expose and hopefully eliminate these unfair practices, not one interviewee extended a neck. Which I can’t easily condemn. After all, the stage has been set, the players have learned their lines and the curtains won’t come down as long as everyone keeps dancing.
Yet the big question remains: Can a profession that turns a blind eye to this kind of pervasive institutionalized cheating possibly expect to possess the integrity to do right by its membership and its mission?
Dr. Khuly is a mixed-animal practitioner in Miami and a passionate blogger at Vetstreet.com. She earned her veterinary degree in 1995 and her MBA from Wharton in 1997.