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Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Fake student took part in cadaver dissections

University revises ID measures to ensure those on medical courses belong there.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A man caught posing as a medical student was involved in cadaver dissection and examinations of other students.

The University of Auckland has made changes to avoid a repeat of the breach, including enabling police vetting of enrolling medical students this year and a costly revamp of student ID cards.

A report into the man's two-year deception, released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, outlines the extraordinary lengths he went to to avoid detection.

The man enrolled as a biomedical science student in 2010. His application to attend medical school was rejected, but he pretended he had been accepted and carried on attending lectures and tutorials and working on group assignments during 2011 and 2012.

He avoided detection until he was paired with another student for a laboratory assignment and both had to provide their ID numbers.

Amid the resulting media storm, the university ordered a full investigation, and a report obtained by the Herald has established that the fake student:

* Attended lectures and participated in the human anatomy laboratory, where students dissect cadavers.

* Took part in clinical skills teaching which included non-sensitive examinations of other students.

* Drove to Middlemore Hospital with other students, although the university says there is no evidence of contact with patients.

The university was unable to establish how the man gained access to its restricted areas without an active student access card, but suspected he "tailgated" legitimate students on most occasions.

His name did not appear on class lists, the report noted, but "he appears to have avoided detection by going to considerable lengths to deceive".

"For example, he never sat any examination although he was regularly seen by students waiting outside examination venues. He has since admitted to doing this in order to be noticed by others in the classes he was attending and then quietly slipping away as the students entered the exam room."

The Faculty of Health and Medical Health Sciences has since worked with the university to make student ID cards and name badges clearer.

Tutors in human anatomy laboratory sessions now check students are genuine, and random checks will be made against the official university student database.

The university will also be able to check if those enrolling have committed crimes through a new automated system that will allow remote checking on the police database, "with appropriate privacy provisions".

The fake student, who the university would not name, was served with a trespass notice by police, but the university decided his behaviour was unlikely to be criminal.

Asked if a repeat was possible, a spokeswoman said a "very vigorous" process had been put in place. It was the first such instance in the medical school's 44-year history.

The case came to light when a classmate approached the Herald.

Counties Manukau District Health Board spokeswoman Lauren Young said the DHB was happy with the actions taken since the discovery.

Two-year deception

* A man who posed as a medical student took part in cadaver dissection.

* After his application to study was rejected he attended lectures and tutorials.

* His deception was discovered when he was paired with another student for a laboratory assignment, and they both had to provide their ID numbers.

* The university was unable to establish how the man was able to gain access to its restricted areas without an active student access card.

- NZ Herald

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