Postgrad Med J 83:504-506 doi:10.1136/pgmj.2007.058982
  • Personal view

Problems with using a supervisor’s report as a form of summative assessment

  1. Tim J Wilkinson1,
  2. Winnie B Wade2
  1. 1Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, and Royal Australasian College of Physicians, New Zealand
  2. 2Royal College of Physicians, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor Tim J Wilkinson
 Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, C/- The Princess Margaret Hospital, PO Box 800, Christchurch, New Zealand; tim.wilkinson{at}

    The place of a supervisor report when used as a summative assessment of clinical workplace based learning is discussed

    Within clinical medicine, the apprenticeship model is traditional, and highly valued. It relies on a close relationship between a supervisor and a trainee. When it comes to assessing the trainee, who better to ask than the supervisor? On the face of it, this approach makes good sense and has contributed to formalising ways of seeking such an opinion. As one source of feedback, such an opinion is highly valuable. In recent times, though, such reports are now being increasingly used as a form of summative assessment—that is, the basis on which decisions about the trainee’s progress are made. This practice relies on the assumption that such a report is always a valid and reliable assessment method. We wish to challenge this assumption. This paper aims to distil and explain the fundamental flaws of this type of assessment, and offers an alternative solution that not only aids learning, but does so on the basis of more objective and unbiased information. We suggest that the use of a supervisor report change from that of an assessment tool to one that becomes a summary of the results of a variety of assessments.


    Typically, this is a form with a number of criteria deemed to be important for a trainee to achieve. The supervisor is asked to tick a box that best applies to that trainee’s level of competence or achievement. For example, “the trainee has developed a level of knowledge commensurate with his or her level of training” or “the trainee is reliable” or “the trainee communicates well with patients and peers”. Alongside these statements are levels of accomplishment, such as “below expectations, marginally below expectations, marginally above expectations, above expectations, well above expectations”. …