In Ireland, to register as a midwife, all student midwives must be deemed competent to practice with the assessment of competence an essential component of midwifery education. A variety of assessment strategies, including observed practice, clinical interviews, portfolios of reflection, the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) and written examination papers, are utilised to assess midwifery students' clinical competence. In this paper, a critical review of the OSCE as a strategy for assessing clinical competence in one third level institution in Ireland is offered. Although utilised for assessing competence across a range of areas (e.g. obstetric emergencies and pharmacology/drug administration), the use of the OSCE for assessing midwifery students' competence in lactation and infant feeding practices, as an example for this paper, is described. The advantages, disadvantages, validity and reliability of the OSCE, as an assessment strategy, are critically explored. Recognising that no single assessment strategy can provide all the information required to assess something as complex as clinical performance, the OSCE, when viewed alongside other forms of assessment, and with relevance to the topic under examination, may be considered a valuable strategy for enhancing the assessment of students' clinical competence, and for embracing diversity within midwifery education and training.
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