13 May, 2020
Necessity, so it’s said, is the mother of invention. And so it has proved to be for the IBMS.
The Specialist Diploma is a portfolio, work-based qualification undertaken in IBMS-approved training laboratories. Typically taking two years to complete, candidates are expected to work through a set programme in a specific discipline, and then be assessed by an examiner in their training laboratory.
Covid-19 and social distancing has forced a rethink, and the IBMS is now allowing the first virtual assessments.
Shakeela Brown is a Biomedical Scientist who recently completed the portfolio and was one of the first to be assessed virtually in HSL
She and HSL’s Training and Development Manager in Infection Sciences, Ashleigh Dadson-Butt and examiner, Aisha Bari, Senior Biomedical Scientist and Training Officer at Charing Cross Hospital, explain how the new arrangement worked for all parties.
Virtual assessment meant a lot more pre-preparation and communication between all parties. Having agreed the format for her lab tour/viva would be PowerPoint, Shakeela then had to photograph the entire lab and her featured specimens – all the while being compliant with data protection. “This allowed me to show the examiner the different sections within the Department, including the analysers and equipment that is used. I also took images of myself performing some of the tests, such as reading CSF cell counts to add a personal feel to the virtual tour.”
Shakeela then had to take her examination from home.
Notwithstanding some technical challenges, she completed the specialist exam in the usual format, with Aisha able to ask questions.
So, did the new way work? “Yes,” says Ashleigh, “I think as long as there is open communication between the trainer, examiner and candidate about the structure of the day and it’s well organised and the IT is checked with a dry run then it is just as useful as an examination in person.”
Will the format be extended after social distancing restrictions are lifted? Aisha thinks it could: “It’s definitely a solution to how portfolios can be assessed in the future where it is not always possible to attend the laboratory. Virtual assessments could reduce the wait for candidates.”
Shakeela says she enjoys the interaction a “normal” exam allows but acknowledges the virtual exam is a great alternative. Ashleigh adds that if standards are maintained and guidance followed, the experiment may actually improve the system of portfolio assessments, especially for candidates who in the past have had to wait a long time for an examiner to become available.
HSL’s Head of Scientific Training, Wendy Leversuch, supported Ashleigh and Shakeela in preparing for the virtual assessment and was pleased with the outcome. She added, “Shakeela’s was the first specialist portfolio completed in its entirety in our Infection Sciences department. The comments made by the examiner in her report reflect our commitment to training and show the hard work of both Shakeela, Ashleigh and all the staff involved in training.”
And, the most important question of all – how did Shakeela do? Very well! She is now the proud holder of the IBMS Specialist Diploma in Medical Microbiology. She now hopes to undertake a Masters in Medical Microbiology and conduct research into plant-based extracts for treatments. Congratulations to Shakeela.