Failure of faculty to fail failing medical students: Fiction or an actual erosion of professional standards?

Salman Y. Guraya*, Walther N. K. A. van Mook, Khalid Khoshhal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Objectives: Literature has shown that some assessors assign passing grades to medical students who, in fact, should not have passed. This inability of the faculty to fail underperforming students can jeopardise the reputation of professional programs, be it in the medical field or beyond. Simultaneously, weak students become incompetent physicians and, thus, endanger the community they serve. The impetus for conducting this systematic review was to identify barriers to faculty in failing struggling medical students.

Methods: The databases of MEDLINE, Scopus, Wiley online library, Cochrane library, OVID, Taylor and Francis, CINAHL, Springer link, ProQuest, and ISI Web of knowledge were searched using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms 'Faculty failure' AND 'Failing students' AND 'Failure to fail' OR 'Assessment'. The data were synthesised, and the results were analysed.

Results: This search showed a wealth of barriers to faculty contributing to a 'failure to fail' such as their concerns about legal action and an appeals process; the stress of failing students; a lack of knowledge about proper documentation; unavailability of support, resources, and offices for faculty; absence of administrative guidelines; and complex dismissal procedures discouraging the faculty from failing students.

Conclusion: Institutional faculty development programs and training workshops should facilitate the education of supervisors and assessors for timely evaluation and regular documentation of trainee assessment. The provision of legal advice in cases of appeal and professional support by the resource and support office is emphasised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-109
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Taibah University Medical Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Assessment
  • Faculty failure
  • Failing students
  • Failure to fail
  • Medical education
  • PASS

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