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Stage 1: Helping the trainee with self-assessment

There are a number of different aspects that each student or trainee could consider as part of the self-assessment phase. Moreover, for each aspect there are different possible ways of carrying out the self-assessment. As a bare minimum, you should encourage your student/trainee to reflect on:

  • achievements/skills/interests
  • aspects of work they find particularly stressful
  • work values.

Self-assessment resources

Some medical schools and postgraduate education centres provide career-planning workshops in which students/trainees are given an opportunity to complete various self-assessment activities. But if this doesn’t happen where you work, at the end of this module there is a list of self-assessment resources to which you can direct your student/trainee. Encourage them to get hold of at least one of these publications (they should be in the medical school or education centre library), work through the exercises in their own time and then bring the exercises to your supervision session.

But don’t waste your supervision session by getting the trainee to complete self-assessment exercises during the session itself. Instead, the supervision session should be seen as a time for facilitating and deepening the learner’s understanding of themselves, using the self-assessment exercises they have previously completed as a starting point or prompt.

The questions listed below give a flavour of the sorts of question you could pose to a student or trainee about their achievements, skills and interests.

  • Using the results from an exercise where you examined specific achievements to tease out the underlying skills, what key skills did you identify?
  • Of these skills, which are you particularly interested in using at work?
  • How does your list of key skills tally with any relevant assessments that have been carried out at medical school, or as part of the foundation programme?
  • Are there any key skills you are not currently using at work that you would like to be able to use to find work more satisfying?

You should pose similar sorts of question to help your trainee explore other self-assessment exercises they may have carried out, for instance on work values or on aspects of work that they find particularly stressful.

What about psychometric testing?

Some trainees struggle with the self-assessment exercises or, having carried them out, have difficulty using the results to identify possible career options that might suit them. For these trainees, completing a personality assessment such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or an interest inventory such as the Specialty Choice Inventory Sci59, can be useful.

But it is important to be clear about what psychometric tests can and cannot tell you. So, for example, in their review of the literature on personality tests and medical specialty choice, Borges and Savickas (2002) concluded that:

  • there is more variation in  personality traits within medical specialties than between them
  • all personality types appear in all specialties
  • more than one medical specialty fits the personality of any particular medical student.

These authors recommend that completing personality tests should be used as a way of increasing self-knowledge, rather than as a  diagnostic process that will ‘match’ a particular personality to a particular specialty.

Similarly, if your student/trainee decides to complete Sci59, the resulting print-out should be regarded as a list of possible careers they might want to explore further, rather than as a ‘diagnosis’ of specialties that will definitely suit that particular individual.

Ultimately, what a trainee will get out of completing a particular psychometric test is highly dependent on the skills of the person who is giving them test feedback. If that person challenges them to think about the ways in which the results of the test accord (or don’t accord) with their other self-assessment activities, and if they are appropriately aware of what a psychometric test can and cannot tell somebody, then the process can be useful. But if the person giving feedback doesn’t approach the task in this way, completing psychometric tests can at best be useless and at worst misleading.

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Further information

More information about this module, further reading and a complete list of glossary terms.

Learning activities

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