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How To Pass The OSCE On Purpose

Associate Clinical Educator Bob of Meducate Academy and a cohort of PA Students
Associate Clinical Educator Bob working with a cohort of PA Students at Chester University

For many years I’ve worked with thousands of students in medical schools and institutions teaching specifically on the physician associate programme at Wolverhampton and Chester University. It’s been a highly satisfying job and allows me to do what I love more than anything and that is to teach students! One of the major concerns students have are about passing their OSCEs. From the day their course starts to the day of their exams the conversation inevitably centres around one topic: The dreaded OSCEs.

OSCE is an acronym that has become linked to insecurity and fear, most of which is unfounded. These fears and insecurities are prevalent with most PA students wherever I am teaching. The common questions I get asked are:

“What’s going to happen in the OSCE?”

“What happens if I fail the OSCE?”

“Are they going to try and catch me out in the OSCE?”

“I get really nervous before any exam and never do well.”

It’s all students think and talk about to colleagues and friends. It seems to be the main topic of conversation whenever I talk to students. I often tell the students, why not focus this emotional energy and time on the coursework itself. These negative types of conversations can only produce one outcome; that all involved in this unproductive dialogue will scare each other to death. Instead, I get them to imagine using that intensity of focus on doing what they need to do to pass the exams, rather than fretting, worrying and talking to other students who also feel the same way.

These negative thoughts and ideas about the OSCEs are after all just assumptions based on ignorance. Ignorance inevitably leads to the imagination running riot and before you know it you have prepared yourself to fail the exam. Talk of OSCE fears inevitably start in week one of the first term, two years before the actual national exams. What a waste of time and energy.

When I talk to these students (usually in their 1st year) I ask them,“What made them choose the PA Programme. What made them want to be a Physician Associate? What is it about the PA Programme that excites them? Does it excite them?” In other words, I ask them if they know their purpose in becoming a PA?

“Why are you doing this course?”

“What will you get out of becoming a physician associate?”

“What is your purpose?”

Their usual response when asked these questions is to get confused and talk about setting goals and passing the exams. A few will say it’s what they have always wanted to do. A minority will say that their purpose is to care for people and see themselves as a compassionate person. This is what drives them each day. Now that sounds like someone who understands their purpose in life.

I knew one PA many years ago who shared his thoughts with me after a session and he had just this mindset. He said when he was a student and thought about the OSCEs it got him excited, not afraid. He looked forward to the OSCEs because this meant he was getting nearer to his goal of fulfilling his purpose which was to help others. Incidentally, he passed all 14 stations in the National Exams later that year. He knew what his purpose was and kept that in mind every day. Yes, he was nervous before the exams, but he had developed a strategy for dealing with those emotions. More of that later.

Once you have defined your purpose, you now need to review it every day and get yourself excited about achieving the goal of becoming a PA. If you stay on purpose you will achieve your goals both short and long term. But remember a goal without purpose will be short-lived.

This is a strategy I have always used and it helps keep me focused. I know why I am doing what I am doing and I know I will reap the rewards. I have never been goal oriented only purpose driven and yet I seem to achieve my goals.

Another technique I encourage students to practice is to add a sensory component to their thoughts when they think about their approach to the PA course. For example:

“How will it look when you are working as a PA?” (Visual component)

“How will it feel when you are doing the job you were born too do?” (Kinesthetic component)

“Imagine how it will sound when you proudly tell people you are a Physician Associate”, (Auditory component)

Employing your imagination and thinking like this changes your mindset so that you stay focused on your purpose. You have already been doing this when you have spoken negatively about the OSCEs. You know how to do this, but have been using your imagination to work against you and not for you. Use your brain for a positive change, not a negative one!

When fellow students say things like:

“What happens if I fail the OSCEs?” I always re-frame it and say: “What happens if you pass the OSCEs? What would that look like and feel like in your minds eye?”

By staying focused on that feeling your energy will begin to change. You will approach each task with the knowledge that you are getting closer to living out your purpose.

Sometimes, it is true to say that you will encounter setbacks, when things don’t quite work out the way you wanted them. I call these badly formed outcomes. I don’t see them as a failure. These situations are often outside of your control and have been dictated by others. That’s OK. See these episodes as just feedback. That’s all. This approach allows you to stay focused on what’s important and not worry about being a failure. This just wastes emotional energy. Energy you can use in a more positive way.

A great way to re-programme your brain, so that you do more of the above, is to sit for 10-15 minutes a day in a quiet place. Focus on your purpose, imagining how you will feel when you finish the final station of the OSCEs and become a Physician Associate. You should timetable this in to your activity every day. It’s an OSCE meditation, if you like. It will be time well spent and as mindfulness is a big thing at the moment why not get in with the trend?

I’ve taught and used meditation long before it was fashionable, as well as taking part in physical exercise, both of which have helped me stay balanced and integrated and lead a pretty stress free life. So why not add those two beneficial activities to your diary every week to improve your mental and physical health. These activities will not only help you with work, but in all areas of you life.

I suggest you give both a try and 10-15 minutes of meditation every day will show you what state your mind is in. It will teach you how to ensure that you won’t be ambushed by the inevitable negative thoughts, internal dialogue and subsequent emotions when the acronym OSCE is mentioned!

When you sit in meditation for the first time, many thoughts will come into your awareness. Being a PA student you may encounter many negative reactions including thoughts about the OSCEs. Focus on those thoughts and then do the following:

  • Observe the emotion, the reaction and see it for what it is. Just a creation of your mind. Just a sensation in the body.
  • Then Let It Go. That’s right,just release it and watch it vanish. A student once said to me what happens when this train of thought arises? I said, “Do not get on the train”. “Let it Go. Let it leave the station”.  She said she waved it off, smiled and felt relief.
  • Once you have Let Go of the thought, any inevitable knee jerk reaction you would normally experience will stop. Allowing you time to …
  • Be in the moment and come back to focusing on your purpose. These techniques will help you to become more mindful of your mental states, and you can practice this awareness which will carry over into your daily life.

It is a great technique for improving your overall mental health too. It helps you remain balanced and integrated in the other aspects of your life. Do it for a week and see how you feel!

This doesn’t mean you wont be influenced by those around you though. They will still attempt to discuss their failings with you but this time stay focused and listen politely with out getting dragged into the  conversation. I have a technique to deal with that to and I’ll share it now.

When the negativity starts to flow from others around me and they don’t want to listen for an alternative, I have a delete button. Yes a delete button in my head. I use it quite a lot actually. Mainly if I listen to the news. But seriously, it can be a powerful tool and a great strategy that will help you stay on track. Just use it for a week and see what happens.

It turns out that this is what successful people seem to do most of the time. Some of the most successful people have not listened to the naysayers and the critics. They stay on purpose until they achieve what it is they are looking for. If you become one of them you become an optimist. Optimists always seem to get things done. They don’t always succeed on the first attempt, but optimism keeps them going. There is always a silver lining to every cloud and a light at the end of the tunnel for an optimist.

By putting yourself in this mindset you are as the saying goes, “living in the moment”, but with an optimistic eye on the future. The only alternative is of course to do what you are probably doing already:

Thinking about how tough the OSCE will be and how badly you are going to do.

Filling your head with self-doubt and negative internal chatter.

Deciding ahead of time how you are more than likely going to fail a station or two.

If you’re doing that, use the delete button or turn the volume down! Drown out the internal dialogue by reminding yourself of your purpose, and asking yourself every day as to just why you want the job of a Physician Associate.

If you want to learn more about some of these strategies and techniques Bob will be running an online seminar on 23rd July 2022 at 12pm until 2pm explaining in detail how to put these techniques into daily practice. Once you’ve signed up for the course you will receive a downloadable handbook on how to improve your mental health.

When you enroll on the course please send your questions to Bob in confidence and he will address those issues during the online seminar. The cost, including the manual, is only £9.99 paid via PayPal.

He is also available to do 121 coaching for any students who feel they need a little bit of personal help. Contact him on 07870 611850 to arrange private Zoom meeting.

Meducate Academy: Building Lasting Partnerships

Bache Hall, University of Chester
Bache Hall was the venue for this years Summative OSCEs for the 2nd year physician associates

What a great week we have had this week.

We started the week with a mixture of Summative OSCEs for The University of Chester and ended the week with a long day of filming MSK examination procedures for The University of Wolverhampton.

The University of Chester Physician Associate Programme, under the guidance of Course Director James Ennis, were running a series of online and in person Summative OSCEs for their 2nd year students.

We had seven ACEs working on a variety of stations. I was personally responsible for being in Chester taking two days out to work alongside senior clinicians working on Suicide Assessment and Breaking Bad news scenarios.

Preparing for a days filming with Wolverhampton University
Setting up the scene and preparing for filming at the Meducate Offices

The team of ACEs from Meducate Academy gave a great account of themselves and all received glowing testimonials from the Clinicians they were working with. We had no problems with the technology and Chester University has mastered the art of working on Microsoft Teams to great effect. Even the students commented on how well organised the two days went.

Running OSCEs is always a challenge for both Meducate Academy and the universities involved. Our extensive experience working in this fields for over ten years ensures that we always deliver the best service.

Our close working relationship with Chester University means no matter what happens we all work together as a team to ensure the students have the best possible educational experience. I always know that things are going well when individual students remember the names of our ACEs and ask for them by name. It’s also important to build relationships with the students.

Friday morning saw Meducate Academy back in our offices in Birmingham, filming a whole range of Musculoskeletal Examinations for The University of Wolverhampton in preparation for their 2021 teaching modules and the start of their new cohort in February.

Course Lead Pete Gorman and myself filmed Hip, Knee, Shoulder, Spine, Wrist and Foot exams in great detail with explanations of how they can be adapted when demonstrating them on an OSCE station. Safe practice was always the main focus of the sessions, and we made mention of the importance of accurate communication with the patient.

Clinical lead Pete Gorman prepares to preform a hip examination
Clinical lead Pete Gorman prepares to preform a hip examination on the ACE at Meducate Academy

Although the day was long it was made easier by the shared sense of humour of both Professor Kenny Langlands (Course Director), Pete Gorman (Course Clinical Lead) and the team from Meducate Academy.

We also managed to film a short interview with Kenny and Pete as to how they see their close relationship with us and how important the ACE role is with regard to the development of the student Physician Associate.

The films are now in the film edit process and I shall work on this all week.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our friends and colleagues at both The University of Wolverhampton and the University of Chester for making 2020 a significant year for us, despite the restrictions placed on us by a series of Lockdowns.

2021 could be our best year yet.

Why not join us!

If you are a roleplayer, actor or clinician and wish to be part of the Meducate Team contact us by sending your name and email in the box below.

My Top 10 Tips For Failing The OSCEs

Image of long haired and unshaven medical student
Here are my top ten tips that will assure you fail the OSCEs

The idea for this post developed over the past ten years of my involvement in the training of Physician Associates, Medics, Pharmacists, Dentists and other health professionals. Ten years of working as an ACE and role-player observing those same students pass and fail their OSCEs every year.

I have also spent ten years mentoring and coaching students from all walks of life, at various levels of their education in order to help them become a success.

I have consequently developed strategies and models to help students become safe and competent health professionals. I have seen how successful many of them have become, time and time again.

Over that time, I have also made a careful study of underachievement. The students who fail. I have therefore reached a shocking conclusion that many of the students who fail, share the same strategies on a daily basis that leads to a state of total and absolute failure.

It takes an awful lot of work to fail this well. Often a lot more work than it takes to succeed.

Successful people always reveal that they never feel that they are working for a living.

They’re invariably optimists.

Failures are invariably pessimists.

They usually hate their work.

I have learned a lot from failures.

Failure is a choice… It takes conscious effort!

As I have said, I have studied success too and I know those strategies well. I guess if you know specific strategies for success and do the exact opposite, you’re well on your way to being a spectacular failure.

So, here are my top tips, my step-by-step approach to help you fail the OSCEs majestically.

Of course you could also do the exact opposite… But that would be crazy!!

So here we go:

STEP ONE

If you want to ensure that you fail the OSCE then you must definitely never ever think about what success could mean for you. Avoid, at all costs, positive role models and avoid successful people.

Never define your goals or find your purpose.

STEP TWO

DO NOT turn up early or even on time for lectures. In fact make sure you miss as many as possible. Forget to set your alarm and enjoy those extra minutes in your lovely warm bed. You deserve it after all. It’s been a tough week!

STEP THREE

If you insist on revising, remember to never revise in a structured way. Never plan you day around your study time.There are more important things to do. Tidying up your room, washing the dishes, the laundry or catching up on the a Netflix series that you missed first time around.

STEP FOUR

As the OSCE dates get closer never try to be optimistic about this approaching nightmare. Do anything but think about those exams.

Reaffirm on an hourly basis, that it’s going to be difficult. Maybe even impossible. OSCEs are difficult and scary.

STEP FIVE

Repeat Step Four the night before the OSCE and stay up late. Never get an early night and always panic. Lots of panicking!

“DO NOT REMAIN CALM.”

STEP SIX

You have somehow made it to the OSCEs and you are at your first station. Whatever you do… DO NOT READ THE QUESTION PROPERLY! Tell yourself that those two minutes are going to fly by, so only give it a quick scan.

STEP SEVEN

Never tidy up your appearance. Do not iron your clothes and always wear something inappropriate. You washed your hands earlier in the day, so do not use the hand gel when you enter the room.

STEP EIGHT

When you enter the room, lack confidence. This shouldn’t be difficult if you have followed the previous seven steps. If you look scared, you may win a sympathy vote. Mumble your name incomprehensibly and as fast as you can to save time.

STEP NINE

Forget to take notes. If you have been stupid enough to have wasted time making some outside the station… NEVER refer to them again. Remember to leave your stethoscope and watch at home. You can borrow them from the examiner, anyway!

STEP TEN

Have no structure when performing a systems exam. You’re a free spirit and want to show your improvisational skills to the examiner. When taking a history, DO NOT make eye contact. DO NOT listen for cues and always use jargon. Keep saying: “OK. OK. OK.”

Finally. Thanks for coming this far with the article. You have succeeded at something! Best that you forget everything I have said and now delete all the above from your memory. That would just take up valuable space.

This is by no means a complete guide for failing the OSCEs. That would take a book and you probably wouldn’t be bothered to read it, anyway. Avoid books, research papers and journals related to medicine. Hello magazine has more pictures in it, is more interesting and wastes a bit of time.

Meducate Academy Is Moving

Clinical training room at Wolverhampton University

Meducate Academy is moving, in many senses of the word…

Almost three years in the business and despite the impact that Covid-19 has created, Meducate Academy seem to be leading the way in the education of health-care professionals by Lay Clinical Educators and Simulated Patients.

The past week has seen us providing our services to one of our partners, The University of Wolverhampton. Under the direction of Pete Gorman Clinical Lead we supplied Associate Clinical Educators on their Physician Associate Programme. Working with three experienced ACEs we covered scenarios including the management of Mental Health issues, dealing with an anxious patient presenting with STEMI and a session on how to examine a patient with thyroid problems

These scenarios were designed to challenge the students both in their ability to take a focused history and a perform a focused cardiovascular and thyroid examination, including testing them on their ability to read an ECG correctly.

We ran the sessions as a mock OSCE over ten minutes, but unlike an OSCE we were able to give feedback to the students for twenty minutes each. The days were long but productive and very rewarding, plus the feedback given by the students was also excellent.

The students had worked with us previously, so they were not surprised by the level of challenge and the way we approach the delivery of Clinical Examinations. They were all PA students in their second year, so the pressure was put on them to perform at the highest level. Most of them didn’t let us down, and they thanked us for the work we had done last year.

Unlike volunteers and real patients, an ACE working alongside an experienced clinician can make a significant difference to the development of a PA student.

It is sessions like this that allow the students to make their mistakes in a safe and supportive environment. The ACE always gives feedback in a structured way, including information on the students ability to build rapport with the patient.

We will be following these sessions up next week with Mock OSCEs under actual exam conditions using seven of our most experienced ACEs. It should be an enjoyable week!

Next month we will also work with The University of Chester on their PA programme, but this time we will work online using Microsoft Teams. This is a different type of teaching and requires good camera skills. More of that in another post.

Working online presents us all with a variety of communication challenges. Lousy cameras, dodgy Wi-Fi and misunderstandings about how to use the system. The Internet can seem to have a life of its own at times. We have contingency plans for events like this.

We have even run online sessions to help students and our ACEs use the technology more effectively. Most of the online work we do focuses more on History Taking as it’s virtually impossible to do physical exams online.

Working online presents its challenges, but we have been working online since the start of the first lockdown back in March earlier this year. We more or less have it sorted!

Embracing the new technology meant we had to invest in state-of-the-art cameras, lighting and sound equipment to ensure that our customers get the very best experience.

It also means we can film training material and create Podcasts for use by our clients for future use when the Covid-19 pandemic is all over.

Those of you with a keen eye will see that our address has also changed.

We have now moved our offices from Shenstone in Staffordshire to a Birmingham city center location, situated at Grosvenor House in the Jewellery Quarter in St Paul’s Square. Having a central location makes it easier to train upcoming ACEs and meet potential clients. We are near to Central Station and on the major route into Birmingham from the M6.

All this and more to come. Including a proposed webinar where we invite senior Clinicians and Associate Clinical Educators together with students to talk about how to approach OSCEs. We are also currently filming and building a library of systems exams so students can have access to the latest examination methods being used in the OSCEs.

Thanks to everyone who has helped us make this journey.

Answer the Question: Common Errors When Sitting The OSCEs

Image of man writing on exam paper

As a roleplayer and ACE for more than ten years one of the most common errors I see students make when taking part in their OSCEs is failure to read the questions correctly.

It is more common than you may imagine and not enough time is spent on this aspect of their education. Pete Gorman, course lead of Wolverhampton University, spends one evening of the week working online with his PA students looking at what he calls the “Golden 2 Minutes”. Meducate Academy are currently working as partners with him on this aspect of their training.

That’s how important it is.

At the start of OSCEs we have stations and on each one of them there is a question. The students have two minutes to read this question before they enter the station.

A nail biting two minutes for unprepared students!

What students do in that two minutes is crucial to their success when they sit down with the “patient’ they are about to see.

It is often the case that a student, who feels they have performed badly on a previous station, carry this negative state onto the next question. When they arrive at the next station this inevitably clouds their judgement and therefore their ability to read the question correctly is compromised. Their heads are filled full of ideas about how they might have done better on that last station and this attitude has a definite influence on their state of mind when they sit down and look at the new question. This is the time to let that last experience go, to draw a line under it and clear their mind.

I often tell students to have a delete button in their head so that no matter what they did on the last station, positive or negative, is erased.

Deleted. They don’t need it.

They need clarity of mind to enable them to read the next question now placed in front of them, to take a couple of deep breaths and relax. Then read the question.

So the first thing they need to do is to read the question carefully. Ask themselves what type of question it is. Quickly skim through it to pick out it’s main features.

Is it a procedure, an examination or a history? How much detail do they have?

Quickly make a few relevant notes. Look at the patient information of which there may not be much, but if they concentrate and read the question there may be clues.

Age of patient, gender, ethnicity, marital status and their occupation?

Is there any information about previous medical history, or the medications they are currently on?

I know all of this may seem obvious, but when the red mist of fear comes down and clouds judgement it’s easy to lose sight of the basics.

Think about your strategy for diagnosing the likely outcome. What are the red flags and if this is a mental health problem remember to do a suicide assessment.

All of these things are basic to good structure and in the heat of the moment it’s so easy to skim through the question and think you have it right. Read the question carefully. It is that simple.

I remember one student who hadn’t read the question carefully after a perfect introduction and performed a respiratory exam on me when she was supposed to be performing a cardio vascular exam! Ooooops! Needless to say she failed that station.

Check out some of our videos on our YouTube channel to give more guidance. I will be posting more later in the month.