As summer suns arrive in the UK, so does the sinking feeling that summer time equals exam time. As all dental students know, OSCEs and vivas are two words guaranteed to send a cold chill down the spine but if you thought OSCEs were a dental school phenomenon, think again! I have just taken my MJDF part 2 in May which is made up of 20 OSCE stations and 5 separate vivas. Ouch!
For the uninitiated, an OSCE is an Objective Structured Clinical Exam which, in English means a practical exam made up of a number of stations. Candidates are given 5-7 minutes to complete a practical or paper-based exercise in the presence of an examiner who is frantically ticking boxes. OSCEs are free of subjectivity, hence the name, and the examiner must adhere to the mark scheme. The examiner is simply an observer and cannot interact with the candidate during the completion of the station. Stations may include demonstrating communication skills with a simulated patient (SP), interpreting radiographs, appraising lab work, filling out prescriptions or a medical emergency. There is usually a vignette which is a short summary of the task, outside the OSCE station. Most OSCEs allow a minute or so to read this and then you are summoned into the station by a bell or whistle. You don't have to salute though!
Read on for my top five tips for surviving an OSCE:
1) Breathe and breathe again. In the panic of someone watching you struggle with a rubber dam, it can be easy to forget to take some nice deep breaths. It's amazing how the most difficult of tasks can be made breathtakingly easy, literally.
2) Read the vignette or instructions twice and be clear in your own mind what you are expected to do. Taking that extra 30 seconds to re-read a paragraph can make the difference between a pass or a fail.
3) Use rest stations wisely, there is a reason that bottles of water and sweets are supplied; rehydrate and re-energise! A word of warning, don't re-live past OSCE stations!
4) First impressions count - dress smartly, smile and shake hands firmly with the simulated patients. Good eye contact and empathetic nodding help put the simulated patient on your side which is important as there is a section for the SP to add their feedback
5) Revise the common topics and know the basic practical skills relevant to your OSCE; if you haven't been taught suturing, then you're not going to be examined on it!
I hope I have managed to alleviate any OSCE worries, my dental school OSCEs were stressful but bearable, I did have friends who got into quite a state before an OSCE, almost to the point of being a medical emergency station themselves! Keeping cool, calm and collected goes a long way in ensuring success with an OSCE, easier said than done I know!