Charlotte CuddihyDr Charlotte Cuddihy is currently supporting our assessment development team as part of the National Medical Director’s clinical fellow scheme.

We asked Charlotte about the work she’s doing to develop our assessments and what it’s like for doctors taking part in our pilot days.

Tell us a little bit about your career so far…

I grew up and studied medicine in Glasgow. During medical school, I developed joint problems so I completed my foundation training over a prolonged five year period. This was a challenging time, but it did give me an opportunity to get involved in disability advocacy work after developing an interest in supporting doctors’ wellbeing. After five years of training, I spent a year at Harvard completing a master of public health. I really valued this opportunity to return to studying – meeting a diverse cohort of students, living in an exciting new city and seeing how public health works in action really broadened my perspective. The course strengthened my passion for public health and I’m currently in the process of applying to a specialty training scheme in this field.

So what brings you to the GMC?

Before I started my specialty training, I wanted to gain a broader understanding of working and leading beyond the clinic room, so I applied for a leadership fellow role through the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management. What appealed to me about this specific fellowship with the GMC was the chance to work with their assessment development team, as I’m really interested in incorporating medical education into my future career. I’m pleased that my work here, which involves running assessments, creating exams and learning about blueprinting, standard setting and quality assurance, will equip me with skills I can then transfer into a postgraduate education environment.

As a clinical fellow, what do you actually do?

Since starting my work with the GMC, I’ve often been asked this question. I spend a lot of time collaborating with the five other clinical fellows who are also on this scheme. We span different departments, specialties, and use our individual experiences to try to bring a ‘trainee voice’ to a variety of projects, including supporting a profession under pressure, raising and acting on concerns and supporting doctors with health issues. We all also have our own ‘day jobs’, which for me is developing the content for two GMC assessments: the tests of competence and the revalidation assessment.

What are these assessments for?

The tests of competence form part of an overall assessment of a doctor’s professional performance, and are a way of assessing their knowledge and skills. A doctor may be asked to undertake this when the GMC is investigating their fitness to practise. The tests include a multiple choice exam and an objective structured clinical exam (OSCE) and are tailored to the doctor under investigation. So for example, if you’re an ENT consultant who only manages adults, then your test would focus on assessing skills and knowledge on ear, nose and throat topics at a senior level – but would exclude presentations specific to children.

The revalidation assessment may form part of a doctor’s revalidation if they don’t have a connection to a responsible officer or suitable person. It’s a multiple choice test consisting of 120 questions.

In order to make sure these assessments are reliable, at the right level, and fair to the doctor being assessed, the GMC run monthly pilot days where a range of doctors volunteer to test the questions and scenarios used. Their results are then used as a benchmark to measure the performance of doctors who are required to take one of the assessments.

Why would someone volunteer to take an exam?

I promise you it’s a lot more fun than it sounds! Volunteers receive £350 for taking part but most people don’t do it for the money. Different motivations are usually separated by stage of training:

  • Doctors at the start of their careers say this is a great way to evidence the ‘commitment to specialty’ section of training application forms
  • Mid-career doctors quote a desire to get exam practice and test their knowledge
  • At senior levels it’s felt to be useful for appraisals as evidencing commitment to teaching and/or continuing professional development
  • Finally, those returning to practice at all levels eg after maternity leave, time abroad or in academia use pilot days to refresh their skills

Any doctor who has worked in a particular specialty for a minimum of four months is eligible to take part.

What can doctors expect from the pilot days?

The day begins at 9:30 am with an introductory talk and refreshments. The volunteers are split into two groups – one group doing the OSCE then the written test and the other group completing the tasks in reverse.

The OSCE is a standard 12 stations and lasts around 90 minutes. It runs like any other OSCE with one minute to read a brief task outline outside the room and seven minutes in the station to communicate, examine or perform a procedure before the whistle tells you to move on.

Everything you need will be provided. You needn’t revise for the assessment as we want to know how a doctor would perform in their everyday practice. The assessor will know your seniority and will mark accordingly.

Next up is lunch, provided by the GMC, and a chat with your fellow volunteers. This is one of my favourite parts of the day because, as someone interested in a niche speciality in a remote part of the UK, it has been a great opportunity to connect with people who share my interests around medical education and public health.

The written exam is a 120 question single best answer assessment, which you’ll have two hours to complete. Afterwards the team will seek feedback on the assessment experience. Your views are invaluable in helping us ensure the assessments we use are fair and accurate. By around 4:00 pm you’re free to go with a £350 payment on its way to you.

What’s it like working behind the scenes of the pilot days?

Truthfully it’s really fun. I help to set up each OSCE station, making sure the instructions are clear and any equipment is working. I also make sure the OSCEs run to time and everyone is fed, watered and back where they should be for the afternoon session. I really enjoy the chance to catch up with the assessors and since they’re all consultants or GPs in the speciality, it’s a great way to stay up to date with what’s new in that part of medicine.

However, the real highlight for me is when I’m able to observe one of the OSCE stations. It may sound trite but it’s very inspiring to see a consultation done really well. Coming from a world where burnout among junior doctors is high, it has made me feel a little more hopeful about medicine, and it’s why I stand by saying pilot days are fun and about much more than simply volunteering to do an exam.

Find out which pilot events we’re currently recruiting for and register through our booking page