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How to Excel in Your OSCEs

Once you start a career in medicine, OSCEs are with you for life. Your lectures and seminars give you the foundation you need for your knowledge, but they do not provide a space to apply this knowledge. That is where OSCEs come in.

I am currently halfway through my journey at medical school and having seen several patients on placement, each OSCE station I have had has still taught me something new. From day one, every patient you see is a learning experience that leaves you one step closer to passing those OSCEs. Here are some key tips that I would have give anyone to ace their OSCEs

1. OPTIMISING THE READING TIME:

While anxiously waiting for the ‘enter station’ signal, the first thing you will face is the few minutes of reading time. Although this is nothing new for exams, OSCEs are where most people ignore the reading time.

The first thing you should do is, read the stem and read it again until you fully understand what you are about to face. Try to recognise what this station might be testing for; is it your communication or is it a clinical skills station ? Then run through how you will tackle this. For example, if it is a cardiovascular history taking station, familiarise yourself with the structure and the key questions that should be asked to rule out red flags.

This was particularly helpful for me when I had an OSCE station regarding scan results. Although this is not something which we have specifically covered, by having the basic SPIKES structure of information helped me to successfully pass this station.

Regardless of what station you face, having this checklist can help calm those nerves.

2. ITS ALL ABOUT THE SHOW

If I could give you one advice, that would be to practice, practice, practice. Medical schools like to test their students on the common, basic skills that will be expected of a junior doctor. This includes your basic clinical skills, examination and even basic history taking abilities. The physical examination and procedural skills especially is where most people get caught. The best way to tackle this is by practising meticulously so that you can do it swiftly !

Medicine is all about confidence and presentation.  Regardless of how much knowledge you have, if you cannot SHOW your patients that you are competent then it makes it difficult for them to trust you. Not only that, examiners see hundreds of students for each station during OSCCE exams, so make their job a little easier by making it a little more obvious that you have a systematic approach. Examiners can spot very easily students who have practiced a skill dozens time compared to those who have not. So be meticulous and commit yourself to practicing your clinical skills on a regular basis such that it becomes second nature to you. 

3. WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO

Everyone will always have that one station where they freeze once they see the stem because you have no idea what you are going to do when you walk through that door.

So, the first step is to remember to appear confident! Smile and remember your foundations. Go through the basic structure of the skill that is being tested. For instance, inspection, palpation, percussion, and auscultation applies for any examination station.

Despite this, you are still panicking and have no clue what to do next. If this is the case, then summarise. Whether this is out loud or in your head, run through what has been done so far. This will aid in jogging your memory and pick up any missed areas.

4. HAVE A GO!:

Almost everything we learn in medicine is like nothing we have ever covered before. So give yourself the time you need to understand, practice and improve. I know it can feel demotivating and overwhelming with how much there is to learn. Medicine is one of those areas, whereby, no matter how much you learn, it will NEVER feel enough. Here, it is important to accept that you can never know everything in a subject area that is so dynamic and evolving. For me, the best way to boost my confidence in these areas is to have a go. It is nerve racking to practice a skill in front of the consultant and your whole group. Yet, just by having a go it can really help to come out of your comfort zone because no one expects you to be an expert – we all have areas to improve.

But by taking small steps at a time and starting early with your practice means that you will get the hang of it in no time!

 

Good luck and hope that helps – Sowmya 🙂

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