Thoughts on the OSFAs

The South West healthcare science trainee network (SWHCSTN, for short- rolls off the tongue right?) held a OSFA workshop last month. As the OSFAs are imminently approaching for 3rd years (sorry- not that you need reminding), I thought I would put pen to paper and share some thoughts from the day. I am a second year, I haven’t sat the mock OSFAs and I also do not have a secret source from the school letting me in on any trade secrets, unfortunately. What I’m offering is some reflections from the day and just in general from speaking to people who’ve taken the OSFAs and lived to tell the tale.

Everyone knows that the first rule of OSFA stations is: don’t talk about OSFA stations (with people who haven’t done them yet). This means that sometimes ex-trainees are overly cautious about the information that they share. I’m in a pretty good position in the sense that I can say whatever I want about the OSFAs and not be worried about accidentally revealing crucial information- because, like I said, I have never done one. But that also means this is just a speculative post and only my thoughts on the exam that hopefully could be reassuring or at least relatable to trainees preparing for them now.

I’m not going to explain what the OSFAs are… I can’t imagine you would be reading this if you didn’t already know. But the NSHCS does have a good resource if you’re dying to find out more: http://www.nshcs.hee.nhs.uk/current-programmes-stp/nhs-scientist-training-programme/how-will-i-be-assessed/osfa. You probably already know that they aren’t easy and there’s probably a part of you wishing you didn’t have to sit them. However, there are 3 points that I really want to make from this:

  1. The OSFAs are a valid and reliable exam
  2. The pass rate is actually really high
  3. You can have the confidence to go into your role after passing

Point 1: This was covered by the OSFA assessor, Carolyn Tysoe, who came to our OSFA workshop. Validity; you’re being assessed on your day to day role and tasks that you will actually need to complete and scenarios you will have to deal with in your job. This is a lot better than assessing fact recall in a classic written exam, where it can appear you have a lack of understanding if you don’t know the specific answer. Reliability; you’re being assessed by 12 different people, so if you have one off station that goes badly, you’re not going to fail the whole assessment because of that.

Point 2: In 2014 and 2015 respectively, the pass rates were 92% and 85%, which, after re-sits went up to 98% and 97% (https://www.nshcs.hee.nhs.uk/images/guidance/reports/nshcs_annual_review_final_2016.pdf). These are the only years I can find information on but those don’t seem bad at all. And the increase between the first assessment and the resits just goes to show: if you don’t pass first time, it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, it just means that you weren’t good enough on that day. Whether that’s because you had an off-day or your nerves just got the better of you- and this is obviously a huge source of nerves; the fear of failure. I totally get this – because I know this is something that affects me, and of course, we all want to pass first time, but I don’t think there’s any shame in not passing first time. The whole point of needing a degree and a further 3 years of training to become a clinical scientist means that what we do is complicated and difficult. No one thinks someone who takes more than 1 attempt to pass their driving test is a worse driver that someone who passed on their first time. So why would anyone think this of the OSFAs and clinical scientists?

Point 3: I’ve spoken about this a bit before, but imposter syndrome is such a big thing in the STP. I know that it’s something that myself and a lot of other trainees have and continue to struggle with. Passing such an involved exam where 12 different people are assessing your ability to do your job has got to go some way to relieving that voice in your head telling you they hired the wrong person. I’d like to think that post-OSFAs, when I go for interviews and hopefully I’m offered a job, I can start that job with the confidence of knowing that I am qualified to do it safely and competently. I remember after university, before the STP, I felt unqualified for literally every job I applied for (including the STP!) and it was honestly so demoralising. So as much as the OSFAs scare me and there’s a huge part of me that would rather just not do them, I’m hoping that afterwards I will be able to look back and feel like the training program and assessment structure has prepared me well to start my career as a clinical scientist.

I’m not going to touch much on tips for preparing for/doing your OSFAs because I don’t feel like I am the most qualified person to do that- and we are hoping to have someone who is write for us soon. But whenever I speak to scientists who have completed the OSFAs, a resounding theme is that; sure there’s always more you can do to prepare, but your real “revision” and “preparation” for the OSFAs has been the entirety of your 3 years training. So try not to panic and trust that this has prepared you well.

I hope that this little piece can serve as a bit of an OSFA “silver lining” for trainees with upcoming exams, and if anyone has some tips they want to share, please feel free to get in touch! As always, thanks for reading and good luck!!

Author: Jes

I am a trainee clinical bioinformatician working at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. I am passionate about increasing awareness and discussion about healthcare science and particularly the routes into the field.

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