‘Why didn’t they see my scars?’ Critical thematic analysis of simulated participants’ perceived tensions surrounding objective structured clinical examinations

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Abstract

Background
Simulated participants (SPs) play an important role in simulated assessments of clinical encounters between medical students and patients, most notably in objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs). SP contributions to OSCEs are invaluable, taking the role of a patient or carer. While SPs in some settings/contexts may rate students, their role has been problematized in the literature for their lack of agency within a standardised format of OSCEs that promotes reliability, objectivity and accountability. In this study, we explored SP experiences for tensions that result from simulated assessments and their potential implications for education.

Methods
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven SPs who were also tasked with providing a global mark for students. They were purposively selected to include women and men of different ages, occupation, education and experience as an SP. The interviews were analysed using a critical thematic analysis using a phenomenological approach.

Results
SP experiences directly addressed tensions and contradictions around OSCEs. SP participants described their experiences under four themes: industrialising, reducing, performativity and patient safety. OSCEs were compared to an industrial process that promoted efficiency but which bore no resemblance to real-life doctor-patient encounters. They were perceived to have a power and agency that reduced SPs to verbalising scripts to ensure that students were exposed to a standardised simulated experience that also underlined the performative role of SPs as props. These performative and reductionist experiences extended to students, for whom the mark sheet acted as a checklist, promoting standardised responses that lacked genuineness. All of this created a tension for SPs in promoting patient safety by ensuring that those medical students who passed were clinically competent.

Conclusions
OSCEs often form part of high-stakes exams. As such, they are governed by processes of industrialisation, accountability and standardisation. OSCEs possess a power and agency that can have unintended negative consequences. These include ‘conditioning’ students to adopt behaviours that are not suited to real-life clinical encounters and are not person-centred.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAdvances in Simulation
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2021

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