4 Tips to Preserving an Image of Professionalism in Practice Based Assessment

In this blog post we review best practices for educators looking to assess students in challenging environments, specifically how to best support professionalism when using devices in clinical areas.

It is becoming increasingly popular to use mobile devices within a clinical setting for various activities associated with medical education. Skills that have traditionally been signed off on paper, and feedback from professionals that has traditionally been gathered using forms can be now be recorded electronically, offline, on a student’s or preceptor’s phone or tablet. Other benefits of offline mobile assessment in clinical settings include:

  • Reduced paperwork to be processed, saving administration teams valuable time.
  • Real-time visibility on student progress, enabling staff to provide necessary support and encouragement to students.
  • Feedback can be captured quicker and more effectively, providing a greater narrative of the student’s performance and how they can continue to develop their skills.
  • Students are able to complete more competency-based assessments, providing faculties with more meaningful data on student performance.

Patient awareness

While staff and students become quickly accustomed to using mobile technology in clinical settings, patients who may be unaware of why mobile devices are being used, could potentially deem this practice as unprofessional. Students really do worry about this, and some more experienced professionals may have very justifiable concerns about how the patient may see this.

‘Is that young person in a white coat really messaging their friends while they are supposed to be giving me their full attention?’


Why are the whole group of medics always on the phone or tablet – are they just playing online games?’

Without clear communication, there is real scope for misunderstanding here, and a perceived lack of professionalism. So, what can be done to clear this up?

Our top tips for preserving professionalism

Based on our users’ experiences of maintaining professionalism, we have some simple tips on how to effectively communicate to patients why students and staff may be using mobile devices within clinical environments.

  1. Always be sure to explain to the patient why the student is using their mobile devices
  2. Always explain to local clinical staff what is happening and why
  3. Arrange for stickers to be printed which students or preceptors can display on the backs of their phones or tablets to indicate why the student is using their device, with words such as TRAINING or STUDY TOOL printed in large letters that can be read from a distance. Be sure to also include the university logo. If you’re providing devices, you may wish to provide covers for smartphones or tablets with the message already printed.
  4. Provide students with a set of small cards with a QR code printed on them. This QR code links to an online page with an institution written briefing on the student assessment programme’s purpose and its use of mobile devices – aimed at a briefing for patients and local clinicians.

As we continue to work with a wide range of medical schools worldwide, we will continue to share our experiences through this series of Top Tips.


[Edit: An earlier version of this post implied that concerns about how patients see student mobile use were the preserve of older and more conservative professionals. A correspondent, Tim Ainslie, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Education Coordinator for Physiotherapy at Oxford Brookes University, rightly took us to task for this, pointing out that there is a very real problem if it isn't clear what the device is being used for. The post has been edited to address this.

As Tim points out, "patients want to know that they are being treated effectively by people who know what they are doing, even if they are students. To have someone consulting a device in their presence may just give the impression that the person is looking up the recipe for how to treat them, which has a damaging effect on the confidence that the patient /client may have in the individual responsible for their treatment."]