Medical Student OSCEs: How to Pass the Communication Skills Station

Both for the medical school interviews and medical school exams, you are likely to encounter a station that assesses your communication skills. Generally, they want to see how you interact and converse with a patient. However, in the OSCEs you may also be marked on your knowledge in a particular area, but this can vary between medical schools.

6 Tips to Pass the Medical Student OSCEs

Medical Student OSCEs

1. Avoid medical jargon

All kinds of medical terminology are a big thing to avoid in a communication skills assessment. Try asking yourself how much of the medical vocabulary you actually knew and understood before your first year?

For me, it was minimal - next to nothing. Your patients' knowledge of medical terms will probably be similar. Therefore, try to keep the level of language as simple as possible. Patient leaflets are good to look at for these kinds of situations, and doing a quick Google search could make up a large proportion of your revision. Of course, you should adapt your vocabulary based on the patient's background, for example, if they are a paediatric consultant, then the situation would be different.

2. Show empathy, especially in the OSCEs

You always need to show that you are an empathetic person, and doctor, in stations where you are faced with a patient. However, the communication skills stations may require you to be that extra bit more empathetic, as it could be a very difficult moment for the patient. Examples of situations you could encounter include: breaking bad news, talking about DNACPR, and discussing prognosis.

My advice is to be human and put yourself in the shoes of your patient. The more patients you talk to during your placements, the more natural you will come across during the exam, and this will naturally lead to helping the simulated patient to feel relaxed as well.

3. Build a rapport, medical students are human too! 

Often patients are asked to score the candidate on how they have made them feel and whether they felt respected. It is important for you to build a professional rapport with the patient as you will find that they are more willing to disclose personal information to you if they can trust you. This is true in clinical practice as well! As a doctor, you could be the only person they share this information with so they may really rely on you.

4. Listen to your patients

You need to show some response so that the patient senses that you are engaged and genuinely interested in helping. To show that you are actively listening to the patient, there are certain things that you can do, such as nodding and occasional verbal response (without interrupting what they say too much). Another technique is to reuse the patient's words exactly as they had put it.

5. Eye contact

Again, like with showing empathy, this gets easier the more patients you speak to. To build a good rapport, you need to keep good, constant and appropriate eye contact with the patient throughout the consultation. You can talk to them about anything such as their experience at the hospital, hobbies, or alternatively, take a proper history.

6. Address any concerns and questions that the patient may have

Remember to ask the patient if they have anything that is particularly worrying them and try to address this without letting the patient leave feeling uneasy. Patients might not always ask questions without being prompted, so don't forget to actively ask them if they have any questions for you.

A good safety net would be to provide them with a contact number for someone the patient can get in touch with if they were to think of any questions after the consultation has ended.


Good luck in your Medical Student OSCEs - we hope these tips have been useful. Remember to take them with a pinch of salt, as there is often variation in what different examiners are looking for.

Written by Sammie, Leeds Medical Student 

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