Your first OSCE, a.k.a Objective Structured Clinical Examination, is almost a rite of passage for medical students. These unique exams are used by medical schools to assess students in a pseudo clinical environment by getting them to perform examinations, take a history or any other clinical task they can think of. Unlike written tests, this assessment doesn’t just evaluate memory but also analyses how trainee doctors might perform in a clinical scenario. This means we are graded based on our clinical judgement, communication skills and, of course, our knowledge of medicine.
As is the case for all examinations, different medical schools choose to examine their students in different ways for the OSCE. For example, at Southampton they have a couple of years where the OSCE is just for practice whereas at Manchester every OSCE contributes to their marks. At Barts and the London, we normally have an annual end-of-year OSCE which contributes to our final grade, starting from first year all the way through to fifth year. Due to COVID-19, I missed my last OSCE and my upcoming OSCE might possibly be moved online so we are learning to be flexible on top of everything else!
In my personal experience, OSCEs are the most interesting yet nerve-wracking exams. They are organised to include around 9 stations which are 7 minutes long. After completing a station, there is a one minute break to rotate and continue on to the next station. Anyone who has applied or is applying for medicine will know that this structure is reminiscent of multiple mini interviews (MMI). For my first year OSCE, I was very stressed about how the examination would play out but it ended up going pretty well! My second year OSCE was better as I knew what to expect and had devoted more time to revision of practical skills and patient examinations.
Although OSCEs can be stressful, some students find it to be their best exam as this is a stage to showcase their impeccable clinical skills and connect with the ‘patient’ and examiner. Though we all try our best, there are always some funny mishaps that happen along the way- one medical student I know once dropped the baby model we were meant to weigh in a station! Though these horror stories can occur, most of us get through the OSCE with a smile on our face and a pass mark.
Lastly, some of my top tips to ace an OSCE:
- Practice, practice, practice! It’s very clear to doctors and examiners when you have never performed an examination or practiced taking a history. Although reading notes is important, actually practicing with a patient or role-playing with other students is so helpful.
- Treat each station as if you haven’t done any others- if you get caught up thinking about your performance in a previous station you won’t be focused on the next.
- Read the instructions very carefully before you begin.
- NEVER FORGET TO WASH YOUR HANDS AT THE BEGINNING AND END OF THE STATION- easiest marks to pick up and the most annoying to lose!
- Don’t underestimate the power of effective communication. Even if you aren’t sure what you’re doing next, as long as you speak empathetically and honestly to the patient then you will always make a good impression.
Good luck to anyone considering doing medicine or sitting an OSCE soon!