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With the GP assessment system being overhauled there has never been a more exciting time to become an RCGP examiner, Dr Karen O'Reilly reveals

Ever thought of being an examiner for the RCGP?

I hadn't either. It doesn't figure highly on the list of 101 things to do before you die, but now I can confidently recommend it.

For most it has been an unexpected diversion in their careers and one that without reservation they report as being the best thing they've ever done.

Most GPs think they need to be a trainer or an established educationalist. This is a common misconception. You must have a minimum of five years' experience in general practice following vocational training.

You need to be a member of the college and be currently active in general practice to a minimum of three sessions a week ­ and be likely to remain in practice for the next seven years.

Why might you want you be an examiner? Well it's paid for a start, including any travelling expenses ­ which is always important. The current per diem payment is £340. But probably the most important reason, in my opinion, is that it's dynamising.

It keeps me on my toes professionally and it's invigorating to see young enthusiastic registrars coming through with so many excellent skills. Peer support is excellent and not only is it enjoyable, it impacts in a most positive way in all aspects of my routine work back at the surgery.

Examiners plan and mark written papers, conduct oral examinations and assess videos. It all might sound rather daunting but training is rigorous and ongoing. Examiners are not only well supported but their performance is monitored.

Currently it involves a time commitment of about 17 days a year but with the implementation of a new format exam (nMRCGP) in autumn 2007 this is likely to fall to about 10 days a year. Examiners will no longer be needed for the video component (that is likely to become part of a new workplace-based assessment), written papers and orals are set to disappear and examining will involve a clinical skills assessment, which is similar to a simulated surgery.

Current commitment

·Video marking, which involves two

three-day residential marking workshops in May and November, usually in Warwick

·Oral examinations in London or

Edinburgh ­ three to four days in late June/early July and early December

·Written paper marking two days a year, which is done from home

·Examiners' conference for two days in March each year, where developments in the examination and training exercises are undertaken.


Application is by supported self-nomination. You will be asked to provide a CV and three references. If accepted, you take the potential new examiners programme. You observe two days of oral examining and sit (and hopefully pass!) the MRCGP MCQ paper.

Following this, there are two further hurdles. First, an exercise in marking exam scripts (guidance is given) and then a final group assessment day in which a variety of skills are tested and observed before the panel make their decision.

Reimbursement for travel, subsistence and locum costs is available for the selection process. The selection process can at times feel stressful but it is reassuringly thorough and at the end of the day it's worth it.

You need three referees to support your application. These should be:

·a partner in your own practice or a

principal in general practice who is familiar with your clinical work

·a director of postgraduate general

practice education, or associate dean, or GP tutor, or clinical governance lead;

·a current member of the panel of

examiners or an officer of the applicant's faculty board, or a fellow of the RCGP.

Qualities needed

I'm sure there must be variability ­ after all the college examiners I've met are not by any means clones ­ but prerequisites must be enthusiasm for the profession and a commitment to maintaining high standards in one's own professional practice.

The skills required are not necessarily the same as those required in the care of patients or in teaching.

Qualities as recommended by the panel are:

·reliability (in both the scientific and behavioural senses of the word)

·the ability to interpret and apply agreed marking schedules

·the ability to make consistent and unbiased judgments, and to rank-order candidates

·the ability to make and justify pass/fail decisions

·willingness to subordinate personal opinion to group consensus

·effective functioning in small and large groups

·combining courtesy and sensitivity to candidates with the necessary degree of challenge

·the capacity to 'think on one's feet' and maintain control in oral examinations

·flexibility to adapt examining style to individual candidates

·the capacity to contribute and respond to long-term policy changes.

Interested? Despite these changes in exam format the college is still recruiting new examiners. Further information is available on the college website at or inquiries can be e-mailed to The latest update on the nMRCGP exam can be found on the RCGP website.

Karen O'Reilly is a GP trainer in Hampshire and has recently qualified as an RCGP examiner

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