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05-06-2020 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2020 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 4/2020

Are we generating more assessments without added value? Surgical trainees’ perceptions of and receptiveness to cross-specialty assessment

Perspectives on Medical Education > Uitgave 4/2020
Sarah Burm, Stefanie S. Sebok-Syer, Julie Ann Van Koughnett, Christopher J. Watling
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40037-020-00594-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
A comment to this article is available online at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40037-020-00599-9.



Competency-based medical education (CBME) hinges on robust assessment. However, integrating regular workplace-based assessment within demanding and sometimes chaotic clinical environments remains challenging. Many faculty lack assessment expertise, and some programs lack the infrastructure and faculty numbers to fulfill CBME’s mandate. Recognizing this, we designed and implemented an assessment innovation that trains and deploys a cadre of faculty to assess in specialties outside their own. Specifically, we explored trainees’ perceptions of and receptiveness to this novel assessment approach.


Within Western University’s Surgical Foundations program, 27 PGY‑1 trainees were formatively assessed by trained non-surgeons on a basic laparoscopic surgical skill. These assessments did not impact trainees’ progression. Four focus groups were conducted to gauge residents’ sentiments about the experience of cross-specialty assessment. Data were then analyzed using a thematic analysis approach.


While a few trainees found the experience motivating, more often trainees questioned the feedback they received and the practicality of this assessment approach to advance their procedural skill acquisition. What trainees wanted were strategies for improvement, not merely an assessment of performance.


Trainees’ trepidation at the idea of using outside assessors to meet increased assessment demands appeared grounded in their expectations for assessment. What trainees appeared to desire was a coach—someone who could break their performance into its critical individual components—as opposed to an assessor whose role was limited to scoring their performance. Understanding trainees’ receptivity to new assessment approaches is crucial; otherwise training programs run the risk of generating more assessments without added value.
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