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Keywords:

  • assessment;
  • education;
  • medical student;
  • patient safety;
  • prescribing;
  • prescribing errors

Prescribing of medicines is the key clinical activity in the working life of most doctors. In recent years, a broad consensus regarding the necessary competencies has been achieved. Each of these is a complex mix of knowledge, judgement and skills. Surveys of those on the threshold of their medical careers have revealed widespread lack of confidence in writing prescriptions. A valid and reliable assessment of prescribing competence, separate from an overall assessment of medical knowledge and skill, would have many benefits for clinical governance and patient safety, and would provide a measure of the success of training programmes in therapeutics. Delivering such an assessment presents many challenges, not least of which are the difficulty in identifying a surrogate marker for competent prescribing in clinical practice and the challenge of ensuring that competence assessed in a controlled environment predicts performance in clinical practice. This review makes the case for an on-line OSCE as the most valid form of assessment and sets out the requirements for its development, scope, composition and delivery. It describes an on-going attempt to develop a national assessment of prescribing skills towards the end of undergraduate medical training in the UK.