A Middle Eastern doctor working in Sydney says a test to qualify as an emergency specialist consultant is "discriminatory".
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13 Oct - 6:56 PM  UPDATED 16 Oct - 11:09 AM

A Middle Eastern doctor who has been working for years in one of Sydney’s busiest hospitals says he has been forced to take acting classes in order to pass a "discriminatory" medical test to become a specialist emergency doctor.

It comes after an independent report cleared the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) after claims a group of 30 ethnically-diverse doctors were being failed in the test because of racial bias.

The doctors, from varying backgrounds including India, Malaysia, Iran, Nigeria and South Korea, cited their own research which showed that 88 per cent of Caucasian candidates passed the test compared with only 6.8 per cent of 'non-white' candidates.

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A doctor who has been forced to take the test numerous times after failing - despite having worked in Australian emergency departments for years - believes it is "obvious racism".

The man, who did not want to be identified for fear of a backlash, says the exam is based on an examiner's subjective analysis.

"If they say, 'You don’t have empathy', there is no way you can prove it,” he told SBS World News.

"I’m not a stranger to this community. I’ve seen people who’ve passed this exam and I don’t see they are more passionate or caring."

The practical part of the exam involves mock exercises in a hospital scenario in which candidates are judged on a range of character traits.

But many candidates do not get feedback on their performance, leaving them confused about where to improve.

"There are many features of the exam which are of significant benefit to people who are white," the doctor said.

"And people who are talking with accents, or have brown or black skin, miraculously they don’t have 'passion', they don’t have 'leadership' or 'professionalism'.

"What is professionalism? Is it my clothes, the way I move my hands, the way that I’m looking at people?"

The doctor says he took English classes to improve his communication – despite saying he's never had complaints from superiors in the health system.

He has even taken drama lessons after being advised to by other examiners to ensure he passes the test next time.

"[It is] to show people that I am passionate, and I love people. To show that people from [my birth country] do love people," he said.

"Is there anything more humiliating than this?"

The doctor says the process has taken a toll on his professional and personal life. When he was failed recently, he says he couldn’t talk to people because of the criticism of his English skills in the exam.

“I was buying a coffee and I thought, maybe people don’t understand me, my accent is too strong?

“I find it very inhumane.

“They want us to work... at a specific level. Even if I pass this exam I still feel I’m not part of this health system.”

ACEM says it has identified areas for improvement including giving candidates feedback and providing clarity around expectations.

"The College recognises that some candidates have been deeply affected by their experience and we have apologised for the adverse impact it has had on their live," ACEM President Tony Lawler told SBS News in a statement.

He said the College's Board would develop a plan by February 2018 to make further improvements.

"ACEM also has a duty to patients in Australia and New Zealand to ensure that emergency medicine specialists have the skills they need to provide high quality specialist care," Professor Lawler added.