Best practices for quality assessment in the clinical phase of undergraduate medical training
Medical universities have a responsibility to ensure quality assessment of clinical competence when they certify that they produce competent medical practitioners who can integrate knowledge, skills and attitudes. The assessment of clinical competence is complex, and can be characterised by tension between validity, reliability and fairness, due to the assessment on the “does” level. The defined problem that was addressed is that assessment in the clinical phase of the undergraduate medical programme (MBChB) at the University of the Free State has not been reviewed critically or benchmarked against local and international standards. This thesis intended to benchmark clinical assessment practices against an assessment framework and then propose an action plan on how to bridge the gap between theory and practice when assessing clinical competence. A pragmatic approach was followed to address the practical problems of uncertainty regarding the quality of assessment. From a theoretical perspective, an abductive approach was used to achieve inference. An explanatory sequential mixed method research design was used. During triangulation, alignment of and gaps between theory and practice were identified and solutions recommended. A proposal with an action plan was drafted to enhance the quality of clinical assessment in the undergraduate medical programme. Firstly, an assessment framework to benchmark clinical assessment in undergraduate medical training was compiled. A rapid literature review of local, national and international official regulations and policies, supported by best evidence practices, were used to compile this assessment framework. In this framework, the three components of quality assessment, namely, accreditation, assessment and quality assurance, were addressed. In the second part of the study, current assessment practices were reviewed through data collected from three sources, namely, students, lecturers and student marks, to ensure that different aspects were included in the review. A questionnaire with open and closed-ended questions was completed by clinical students in the undergraduate medical programme, to get the students’ perspectives on assessment. More than half the students were of the opinion that current assessments were not fair, and >90% complained about the lack of formal feedback after assessments. Secondly, the teaching and learning coordinators and module leaders of all the clinical departments involved in undergraduate medical training completed questionnaires on the assessment methods used in their departments. They also made recommendations for ways to improve current assessment practices. Using multiple choice questions and objective structured clinical evaluations were standard practice in most disciplines. Workplace-based assessment (WBA) was not well established and was only used in 30.1% of disciplines. The overemphasis on summative assessment was identified as an area for improvement. Thirdly, current assessment practices were evaluated for reliability. The decision reliability between end-of-block assessment and summative assessment was excellent, with a G-index of agreement of between 0.86 and 0.98. Using unobserved long cases during summative assessment was shown to be unreliable and questionable. During a formal focus group interview, answers were sought on how to bridge the gap between theoretical principles of quality assessment and current assessment practices. Finally, the researcher compiled a proposal with an action plan on how to enhance quality assessment in the clinical phase of the undergraduate medical programme. Most of the practices that compromise the quality of assessment can be addressed on an operational level, and will not be costly to implement. This includes training of assessors, implementation of WBA, effective feedback to students and blueprinting and moderating all assessments. Assessor training will improve the quality of assessments, and will also contribute to the professional development of assessors. Continuous WBA will have the ultimate effect of improving validity and reliability, which will benefit all stakeholders.
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