As a consultant anaesthetist, Dr Tom Gale has experienced for himself the intense pressure and expectation placed upon medical professionals who work in potentially life-threatening clinical environments. Now as a researcher at Plymouth University’s Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, he’s helped to rewrite the recruitment rule-book across the country.
It’s all down to a five-year research project by the University for the Department of Health to look into flaws in the recruitment process for medical specialists. And it’s one that’s led to fundamental changes that are not only being adopted nationally and internationally but are also filtering through to other areas such as staff assessment and development.
“It dates back to 2007 when the ‘Modernising Medical Careers’ initiative launched in order to standardise interview methods across the country,” said Tom. “The idea was that everyone received a ‘fair crack of the whip’ and that the best people would get the job based on multiple independent judgements, removing any potential element of influence by the chair of each interview panel. But the implementation was rushed - there were numerous IT issues, and the application of individual interview methods was different across the regions. So the Department of Health funded a pilot in the South West, and we won a competitive pitch to carry out an evaluation and develop best practice for the selection process.”
The £275,000 project was launched in 2008 and looked into the recruitment of anaesthetists and emergency medical and intensive care professionals at Health Education South West (formerly the South West Peninsula Deanery). The first stage focused upon the shortlisting process, with Tom and the research team developing a situational judgement test (SJT) alongside a machine-marked clinical problem solving test prior to interview during the 2008 recruitment round.
Results confirmed that a tailored SJT for posts had acceptable reliability and correlated well with subsequent scores at interview compared with other shortlisting methods. A self-score portfolio assessment prior to interview was also piloted in the deanery in 2009 as a potential mechanism for shortlisting applicants. But the most dramatic change came with the interview stage itself, and the development of a ‘selection centre’ methodology consisting of work-related tasks to test the attributes of the candidates.