Firstly, I would like to say a big well done to those who are preparing to undertake their OSCE examinations. The Scheme for Registration’s pre-registration year is a gruelling period of developing as a professional optometrist as you are studying, working and being assessed in great detail.
Take a deep breath, you’ve nearly come to the end of this monumental challenge and are about to sit the OSCEs. That is a fantastic achievement alone!
It is the last step you need to complete before taking on your first fully-qualified optometrist job.
So what are OSCEs?
OSCE stands for Objective Structured Clinical Examination, which is a relatively modern style type of assessment that features in many medical and healthcare fields. The overall optical assessment is split into multiple stations that test your overall skill as an optometrist. It is designed to test your competence in communication, clinical skill and management in a way that a written and theoretical scenario cannot and as such are a very effective way to see if you are ready for the life of a qualified optometrist.
This article aims to provide a few tips on how to maximise your chances of success at the OSCE examinations and be confident in your next steps as a newly qualified optometrist.
Preparation for any type of examination is key, with the OSCEs being like other examinations in that respect. Make sure you revise for the exams and have your clinical knowledge up to a high standard. Go to bed early the night before and eat a good breakfast before the examination. Be assertive and make sure you take on all hints and tips provided by other optometrists that have gone through the OSCE process before you – after all, they passed and may have some useful guidance for you.
Personally, I was unlucky not to secure a place on an OSCE training course before my OSCEs and I partly regret not managing to secure one. Many of my colleagues said that the training courses available, such as the ones provided by the Vision Care Institute, were the reason they passed their exams first time. They teach you what the examiners are looking for, give you a chance to practice a few OSCE-style examinations and provide feedback on your performance. Having that little bit of experience to settle your nerves is a fantastic way to prepare for the actual examinations.
Set aside some time with your supervisor to do some mock-OSCEs in your practice. Examples of OSCEs can include interpreting a clinical image, working out the correct contact lens specification, explaining the diagnosis of a disease or finding and even as simple as taking a visual acuity measurement or performing the cover test. You get five minutes to do each one, so have your supervisor create five minute scenarios and let them provide feedback. Do a few of these each week and you will soon get the hang of an OSCE-style assessment.
The OSCEs are trying to simulate a real-world scenario, with a real patient. Each station has a small hand-gel bottle or a sink. Remember to think about hand-hygiene throughout and this will help you score higher. Clean hands may be nice for you after touching a patient, but the patient (and examiner) will appreciate it more so, as there will be a good 15-17 candidates also touching their eyes.
As with the point made about hygiene, it is a real-world situation and you will be expected to treat your OSCE patient as if they are a real patient. Introduce yourself, be courteous and polite and make sure you speak clearly. Exams can make you nervous and some mumbling may be expected – but the examiner and patient want to hear what you say – so make sure they hear you say it!
This goes hand in hand with communication. Know what to say and learn it like lines in a play. I’m thankful my real patients change every 30 minutes and don’t see me for another year or two as I say very similar things to my patient as part of my routine. It also means I am so rehearsed in the routine that I don’t miss out any essential information to give them and it comes out confidently and clearly. This is useful for you too as you want to give all the relevant instructions and information to your station patient so that you can pass the exam.
As binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy is a key skill, this always comes up in the OSCEs. Practice on everyone in your pre-reg clinics. Practice on undilated, real patients and you should pass this with ease.
I am being completely honest here when I say that I enjoyed the OSCEs (cue the very strange look you are making towards the screen as you read that). After the first two nerve-wracking stations, I relaxed and realised that everything is a routine and pretty much textbook presentation of what you are going to see. Patients are co-operative, usually have the one chief complaint/condition they are looking for and management of these cases should be very familiar to you. The exams are not there to catch you out. Enjoy the last few patients that are textbook examples before you head back to the real world of working with the public, where things are not always as simple.
In summary, the OSCEs are really nothing to get worried about. Providing you have prepared and spent time learning how to be an optometrist, the OSCEs should be a walk in the park. Although disaster can strike, if you need to re-sit them then it is not the end of the world. Take the first try as experience and go for it the second time.
When you pass, be sure to check out Prospect Health’s Optometry Jobs for your first fully qualified role or call the Prospect Health Optical Team on 01423 813452.