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Being a doctor in the 21st Century requires a diverse range of skills, a broad base of knowledge and a suite of professional values and attitudes that enable the clinical practice to be safe, effective and caring. Doctors, irrespective of their speciality, need to be knowledgeable and skilful not just in their area of expertise but also need a range of generic skills and capabilities such as communication, leadership, academic scholarship and research, teaching, quality improvement, advocacy, digital literacy to name a few. These capabilities, all relevant to clinical practice, are assessed routinely in clinical settings. This rich information about trainees, available from their formative assessments, does not inform high-stakes judgements about progression. Instead, these judgements are usually made on the basis of summative examinations conducted in simulated settings.
Unfortunately, these summative assessments have consistently delivered results with a large magnitude of the differential between the outcomes of candidates, based on factors such as ethnicity, gender, other protected characteristics and also the country of primary medical qualification. Formative assessment during training, however, is individualised and tends not to show this level of difference; leading to a situation where failure in summative examinations comes as a surprise to both trainees and to training programme directors.
There is evidence that periodic assessment of trainees’ acquisition of core capabilities can help make balanced, informed judgements about readiness for progression. The move from a pass/fail categorisation to a yet/not yet categorisation when coupled with appropriate remedial measures can improve, both the validity, as well as the fairness of assessments.
The large magnitude of the differential in outcomes of high-stakes assessments cannot be fixed by tweaking current assessment systems. Instead, there needs to be a recognition that high-level of capabilities consistently demonstrated in the workplace need to play a role in judgements about progression. Failure to do so is unfair, wasteful of public finances, and in breach of the trust places by the public, in training safe and competent clinicians.
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