Consultant Physician Dr Shairana Naleem speaks about her role as a PLAB Panel Member and Chief Invigilator of the practical assessment.
Unable to stay away from University College London, I returned after graduating medical school in 2004, to complete my Masters in Medical Education in 2012.
Since 2014 I’ve juggled my career as a Consultant Physician at King’s College Hospital at Denmark Hill in London, with being a mother to two young children. I subsequently held a few regional postgraduate education roles. I was keen to explore new ground. I was already part of the Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians Training Board Simulation expert working group for the Royal College of Physicians, but had never previously considered working with the regulator.
I’ve always regarded the GMC establishment as a strict, foreboding and categorically scary organisation. Nevertheless, I was intrigued at what the role as a PLAB panel member may involve. The opportunity to shape the high stakes process of how international medical graduates wanting to work in the UK are assessed, whilst promoting the building of the future NHS work-force and safeguarding the public was an inspiring prospect.
When I was first appointed a PLAB Panel Member I initially experienced a sense of imposter syndrome but that soon melted away as the GMC’s registration team and PLAB panel members are down-to-earth, funny and extremely intelligent, bringing a wealth of genuine experience from the full range of specialties across the country. They put me at ease instantly and sincerely value my contributions.
My compassion for the struggles of international medical graduates has greatly increased. The exam is definitely a challenge, but a fair test and their investment in travel to the UK to sit PLAB 2, and the dedication involved, is exceptional. The team I work with find assessing candidates highly rewarding overall.
Meeting over 250 diverse examiners from far and wide, deans of medical schools, directors of education and NHS organisations during my role as a PLAB2 Chief Invigilator has greatly broadened my educational perspective and allowed me to spread my wings creatively in a forum that is always looking to develop, pushing boundaries and leading the way. The GMC is constantly considering optimisation of patient safety, the impact of global drivers of healthcare and the evolving evidence base, which translates into how we on the panel aim to ensure the assessment as a whole is iteratively updated and always relevant to current practice through constant review. Not only has this expanded my educational portfolio but it has taught me a lot about the quality assurance process.
The GMC’s Manchester-based Clinical Assessment Centre is like nothing I’ve ever seen – technologically superior to anything I previously encountered. Central video monitoring, voice systems, tracking software and beautiful facilities make it a unique and enjoyable day. Once I have checked the equipment, dealt with queries about the stations, briefed the examiners, supported calibration and addressed the candidates and role players, overseeing the exam and seeing it come to life brings a sense of true pride. Networking is always fun and getting to know the examiners, role players and technical staff is part of the experience.
Panel meetings and days I act as a Chief Invigilator are now refreshing reunions for me – yes the exam days are exhausting and intense, but we have excellent support and camaraderie on the ground. We are really making a positive difference every step of the way and I now consider this part of my scope of practice. It is an especially exciting time in educational development at the GMC as we move towards a national licensing exam, the Medical Licensing Assessment.
As a Chief Invigilator I oversee the running of two exam cycles per day, supporting the examiners who are each given a different test station to observe. Stations can include role players, patient simulators, clinical models and medical equipment.
On test days, PLAB2 examiners will encounter up to 36 doctors, who have qualified overseas, all striving to demonstrate their medical skills. Admittedly the days are long, with two test circuits each lasting three hours and 10 minutes, but the work is interesting and an excellent reminder of the Good Medical Practice standards set by the GMC that all trainees starting foundation year two should achieve.
Now there is never privilege without burden, never reward without risk – the risk of losing the precious few days of annual leave you have been saving to dedicate to the GMC (a minimum of eight per year required), the risk of not seeing your family for a couple of nights (my daughter was one and my son four when I started this role but they always receive a treat upon my return), the risk of travel sickness (I absolutely have to arrive the night before) – but ultimately it is an amazing opportunity and I have never looked back.