Bendigo student tops OSCE class of 2017

When he received an email from the faculty about his OSCE performance last year, Zak Doherty thought he’d got the highest marks in Bendigo. But on querying it, he learned to his surprise that he’d topped the Year 3B cohort. He won both the McInnes Prize for highest OSCE mark and the Year 3B Faculty Prize in Clinical Science and Practice.

Winning combination

The OSCE is a practical examination of clinical skills and Zak puts his achievement down to lots of access to patients, the close-knit nature of the student cohort in Bendigo and excellent teaching. “It was a combination of really high quality teaching from the clinical skills educators and then also being in a hospital where you weren't one of a crowd of students. You were one of two students on a ward round … In ED I'm the one suturing whereas in the city hospitals they're the ones watching someone suture.”

Zak says the formal teaching gave students confidence when they moved from simulation learning into the hospital. “I think for a lot of people they're really quite scared when they go from a simulation setting to a patient setting. It's no longer a plastic arm; it's a patient that can feel pain. But most people after learning the exact process with the nurses were all quite comfortable going in to patients and talking to them and doing these procedures because we'd just been taught so well.”

Get lots of practice

His main advice for preparing for the OSCEs is to get lots of practice. “There's about 20 of us from Monash here [in Bendigo] so we were quite a close-knit group. We all lived together at the accommodation here. We could organise to practise OSCEs at Lister [student accommodation] between our rooms.” Academic Lead – Foundation Clinical Year, Mr Stephen Lindsay, also organised two practice OSCEs during the year. “It meant by the time we got to the OSCE it was like: I've done this multiple times before in this same room. So you felt pretty comfortable with it.”

When it comes to exam day, he says it’s important to remember that everyone is nervous.

“Everyone's got sweaty palms, everyone's shakey. You say weird things, your voice cracks but the examiners know that's what happens. Accepting that the stress is normal and realising that the [simulation] patient and the examiner expect you to be stressed: it's not something you should be afraid of. It's just something you should accept and run with.”

Regional and rural learning opportunities

Zak’s experience showcases the learning opportunities available in regional and rural settings. “There's this idea that going rural is a failure. If you don't end up at the Alfred or you don't end up at Monash Medical Centre you'll never become a neuro surgeon or you'll never become a doctor… In Year 1, I wanted to be a neuro surgeon and a trauma surgeon at the Alfred and now I have no interest in returning to the city. I want to work here. And that's because I realise it isn't inferior, it's not a failure; it's actually a completely different thing. And it's a lot more rewarding.”

This year Zak has taken time out from his medical degree to do an honours year looking at cardiac arrest outcomes in intensive care. “I love intensive care, and I like critical care and I like numbers – and I like Bendigo – so it all worked out perfectly.” While he’s enjoying the research project, he’s looking forward to getting back into clinical learning next year. In Year 4B he’ll spend one semester in a regional hospital and one in a rural general practice. “I really want to go to Maryborough because I’ve heard really good things about it.”