Mastering the OSCE

A laptop with someone typing and a stethoscope in the forefront of the image

For international doctors looking to move to the UK, passing the OSCE, or Objective Structured Clinical Exams, is a crucial step in the journey to practicing medicine in the UK.

The OSCE is the ‘practical’ exam of medical school for Emergency Medicine specialists, designed to test candidates’ communication and practical skills, but it does not have to be intimidating. With enough practice and revision, you can go into the exam feeling confident in your abilities.

What to expect in the OSCE

The assessment center is typically designed to simulate a clinical environment, with various stations representing different scenarios. The exam will consist of ten stations, with an examiner at each station to assess your performance based on predetermined criteria.

Four stations are scenario based, four are designed to test your skills, and two aim to assess your values and evidence-based practice. There is likely to be a mixture of patient-facing scenarios, such as performing a clinical exam or taking a patient’s history, as well as data interpretation, for example interpreting investigation results. OSCEs are designed to test your communication skills – so expect some stations that test your language and active listening skills – as well as your clinical reasoning, physical examination, and procedural skills.

Each station is timed, taking between 5-20 minutes. There may be a brief transition period between stations. Though the atmosphere can be intense, staying focused, composed and maintaining your professional demeanor can help you succeed.

How is the OSCE assessed?

The OSCE is assessed according to predetermined criteria that are designed to evaluate your clinical skills, knowledge and professionalism.

Here are the two key aspects of the assessment process:

  • Clinical skills are knowledge: candidates are scored on their ability to apply clinical knowledge effectively in practical scenarios. These include accurate and thorough history taking, conducting comprehensive clinical exams, demonstrating proficiency in clinical procedures and sound reasoning skills.
  • Communication and professionalism: effective communication is a fundamental part of both the OSCE and medical practice. The OSCE evaluates the candidate’s communication skills with patients and colleagues, including the ability to build rapport, actively listen, convey information sensitively and address patient concerns effectively. Professionalism is also assessed, encompassing aspects such as maintaining patient confidentiality, demonstrating ethical behavior, and adapting communication styles based on patient needs.

The communication assessments in the OSCE can seem particularly daunting to international doctors whose first language is not English – so it is crucial to focus on clear and concise communication to convey information to patients and colleagues.

Top tips for passing the OSCE

  1. The key to success in the OSCE is practice. Familiarizing yourself with the exam format, stations and assessment criteria can help you feel more comfortable and confident on the day. Mock OSCE exams are valuable practice to help you refine your clinical skills, time management and communication techniques.
  2. Understanding the assessment criteria, and focusing on meeting them, will help you focus at each station and ensure your responses align with the expected standards.
  3. Time management is also key to passing the OSCE. It’s a good idea to practice completing tasks within the allotted time slots for each station.
  4. Effective communication is vital in the OSCE. Active listening, empathy and clear articulation of information is assessed throughout the examination.
  5. After each OSCE practice examination, or the actual exam, take time to reflect on your performance. Identify areas you excelled in and areas that need improvement – seek feedback from mentors, colleagues and examiners if possible. Use this feedback to focus your revision and practice for the next exam.

Though the OSCE can be daunting, preparation and confidence can help you pass. Good luck in your exam!

If you are sitting the OSCE and would like further help or advice, please reach out to our expert team for guidance and revision materials.

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