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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.

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.

An Interview With Matt Chapman Managing Director of Meducate

Image of Matt Chapman Managing Director of Meducate Academy
Matt Chapman Managing Director of Meducate Academy

Matt Chapman is Managing Director of Meducate and is a founding member of the company. In this post, Matt talks about his vision for the company and how Meducate differs from other companies he has worked for over the years.

“I’ve been involved with Meducate from it’s inception over 2 years ago and the big thing that stood out for me was how engaged the students were with the ACEs and the methods we use. Feedback was always phenomenal  something I hadn’t experienced in any other business before. There’s always a grumpy customer that you have to deal with in any business, but with Meducate it was always positive feedback.

“Every time we engage with an institution and their students, they give us 5 stars across the board.

“When we first met and you talked about the concept of Meducate  you were already doing corporate training with me and when you told me about the potential of the ACE role in medical training, I suspended my judgement on how good you said the work was. I remember coming on the first session with one of our earliest customers at Wolverhampton and it was all true. Not only were you and the other ACE enjoying the day but so were the students. Id never seen that level of engagement with anyone in business before. 100% of the class were involved and craved more! That is when I knew we could make this work. In business we always want a win-win situation, and this seemed to be the right type of service to offer. That and the fact that we are almost the only people to be offering this service.

“The fact that this had never been picked up on before and was an open market surprised me. I know there are lots of role play companies out there offering medical role players, but the role of the ACE is unknown. My only concern was, would we have enough ACEs to cover the 40 + institutions that may need our services. Our answer came with the pandemic. This gave us time to regroup and begin training role players in the skills required for them to perform as an ACE. We did this with the help of some senior academic tutors and experienced clinicians who work in the health care sector. Again, this was another of Meducate’s strengths. Our ability to contact the right people is paramount and we are even in discussions to validate the role of the ACE with two Universities keen to promote what we do.

“I was asked recently what drives me in business and I remember we were talking about values and how you see the work we do at Meducate. One of the core values I have always had was with having the ability to measure and monitor every aspect of the customer experience. That would be at all levels. So how well do we handle incoming calls and meetings with potential clients? Feedback from students is something I have already talked about, but what do the clinicians think? How do they feel about utilising ACEs in the educational process and how valuable are they? The answers coming back so far have been outstanding.  I really believe in giving the customer what they want and will always work with them to achieve their goals.

“I have always believed in being transparent with the people who work for us and the customer. Keeping everyone in the loop on a regular basis makes for a happy and fruitful relationship.

“What has been difficult, but I have now adapted too, is the sudden changes a client might make at the last minute about the type of training they want delivered? I was surprised by how flexible our ACEs were. They were able to shift gear quickly and improvise, effectively delivering exactly what the customer wanted. This I believe is one of Meducate’s great strengths and is due to the intensity, passion and abilities of the people we have working with us.

“With regard to the abilities of the ACEs I would like to mention that we update the ACEs skill sets every 6 months and will run regular training days to help the ACE with any areas in which they might feel weak. We want everyone to feel like they’re part of a family and if we all look after each other, we will all prosper. It’s a continuing process that we can’t let slip. As times change, we must change, as we have all recently experienced, and we were quickly working online in March of this year. I don’t believe any other organisation reacted that quickly. We were already prepared to provide online trainings anyway, so it was simply a matter of contacting our customers and setting it up.

“In closing, I would just like to say that I feel we are a very under-used resource, but we have professional credibility with several universities using us and several ACEs with over 12 years’ experience. If you want to test us out, why not call us or email or call us for a 5 minute conversation?”

Click here to view the full video podcast of the Matt Chapman interview on the Meducate Academy Channel at YouTube