Dr Vicky Osgood is the Director of Education and Standards at the General Medical Council. 

Today is an important milestone for our work to understand some of the factors that can influence a doctor’s progression. We are publishing a set of interactive reports on doctors’ exam pass rates and applications to specialty training. This new data provides insights into which doctors progress from Foundation training into specialty and GP training, and which doctors go on to pass their postgraduate exams.

We are able to do this partly because we have received exam data from all of the medical royal colleges for one academic year. This enables us to make a unique contribution to understanding the extent of the differences in attainment for some groups of doctors across postgraduate medical education and training.

The reports show that there are variations in exam performance by graduating medical school and by postgraduate training programme across different postgraduate exams. We need to be careful about what conclusions we draw from these headlines findings for several reasons. The reports are based on limited data, for example, only one year’s worth of exam data. They do not explain what might be causing the variations. All exams are different, and each specialty, including General Practice, has a unique programme of training and assessments tailored to suit specific needs.

Concentration in exam
“The reports show that there are variations in exam performance by graduating medical school and by postgraduate training programme across different postgraduate exams.”

Working to understand progression

We have been working with other organisations since 2010 to understand doctors’ progression through the training programmes that we approve. We also have a longstanding commitment and a statutory duty to ensure that training pathways are fair.

The issue of variations in performance between some groups of doctors has been around for a long time. For example, it has been known for many years that there is a difference between exam achievement between white and non-white candidates, and in some instances between men and women. We know that the reasons for these variations or differential attainment are likely to be complex, and related to a number of factors. We also know that these differences in outcomes are not unique to medical education and training, but are seen across higher education.

Publishing these reports today is about us being open and transparent about sharing intelligence about trends that can influence a doctor’s practice. We are sponsoring a major programme of work on differential attainment which has several strands. Core to this is an iterative programme of research and data analysis to develop a robust evidence base.

What are we going to do next?

We are continuing our work on several fronts. We are going to update the interactive reports and continue to collect and publish data on doctors’ progression. We are continuing our investigation into why some doctors in training are less likely to progress than others. In particular, men, overseas qualified and BME doctors. We are continuing our work with others to identify and promote what works in providing effective support to trainees to meet the standards.

This work will also influence a number of other GMC policy projects such as the development of a national licensing examination, the revised standards for curricula and assessment systems, and the development of generic professional capabilities.

We want to work collaboratively with you to share our emerging evidence base and explore good practice. Are there things that we can do as the regulator to tackle the variations in performance whilst maintaining standards and protecting patients? Let me know in the comments below.

Interactive report links

 Report user guides

 

Vicky Osgood - headshot

Dr Vicky Osgood is the Director of Education and Standards at the General Medical Council. Prior to that she was our Assistant Director of Postgraduate Education where she was responsible for the approval and quality assurance of the content, standards and outcomes of postgraduate medical education and training in the UK. She was also secretary to the Shape of Training Review.