Objectives: To investigate the effect of an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) on dental students’ learning strategies and competence to manage periodontal diseases in patients. The implemented OSCE was expected to be superior to the existing Written Exam in fostering the acquisition of clinical competencies in terms of study strategies that are more oriented towards clinical practice, longer study time, greater clinical proficiency, and more realistic self-assessment.
Material and methods: After a clinical course in periodontology, 72 third year dental students were assessed summatively, either using a Written Exam or an OSCE (P-OSCE). The students were informed beforehand about the assessment formats. The self-assessed clinical competence, study time and strategies (i.e. practice with a manikin, peers and patient case) were evaluated by means of a questionnaire. After a comprehensive dental care course, all 72 students were assessed by an overall end-of-year OSCE, in which three periodontal stations were included ‘measuring pockets’, ‘educating patients’ and ‘tracing an X-ray with bone-loss’. The competence of the previous Written Exam group and the P-OSCE group was investigated by determining the mean scores and pass-fail scores of three periodontal test-stations as well as the total score of the end-of-year OSCE. The degree of realistic self-assessment was studied by correlating the self-assessed competencies as evaluated by means of the questionnaire with the total score of the end-of-year OSCE.
Results: Self-assessed clinical competence, study time and study strategies showed no differences between the P-OSCE and the Written Exam-group. The clinical competence determined in the test-station ‘measuring pockets’ in the end of year overall OSCE was higher for the P-OSCE group (P = 0.05) when compared with the Written Exam group; the two groups performed equally well in the test station ‘educating patients’, whereas the performance in ‘tracing an X-ray with bone-loss’ was better in the Written Exam group. This group also had a higher total score in the end-of-year OSCE (P = 0.05). The degree of realistic self-assessment was higher in the P-OSCE group than in the Written Exam group: in the P-OSCE group the self-assessed clinical competencies correlated significantly with the total score of the overall end-of-year OSCE (P ≤ 0.05).
Conclusions: No effects of the implementation of an OSCE in undergraduate periodontal education were observed in study strategies, but the implementation of an OSCE in undergraduate periodontal education appears to stimulate learning, resulting in greater achievement of specific clinical competence and a greater level of realistic self-assessment.