Wednesday, April 21, 2010

a supposedly fun thing i'll (hopefully) never do again

You know I've taken five Board exams in my life now? Five! That's a lot of exams! There were the three "Steps" of the USMLE (the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam) in 2001, 2002 and 2004, my written Anesthesia boards last August, and now this one. This was my only oral board exam though, and the key difference between a written and an oral exam is the difference between feeling publicly stupid instead of privately stupid. On a written exam, you just guess at the answer, put a star next to it, and move on; whereas on a written exam, you have to say something out loud, even if it's not right, and then you have to just have to try and keep going on as the echos of your wrongness reverberate throughout the room until you are crushed in an avalanche of shame boulders. Or at least so it seems inside your head.

But anyway--the oral boards! End of the story: they went fine. Compared to some of the more brutal practice sessions I'd been through, it was pretty straightforward, though that isn't to say that there were a few things here or there that didn't quite jump from the fountain of universal knowledge to the tip of my tongue. But it went fine, I think, and at the very least, it's over. I get the results in about a month.

But on to the more important issues...this is what I wore:

Excuse the blurriness of the photo, as well as the fact that there is stuff all over the floor (including a lampshade) which makes us look like we live like meth addicts. To our credit, the lamp was Ikea (read: readily broken) and, having outlived its usefulness as a light source, Mack has been wearing the shade as a hat. Because he's a party animal in a Rodney Dangerfield movie. Oh, yes, the blurriness. When we moved into this house, one of the first things we did was try and clean all the mirrors, because it looked like they were super dusty. But what we found was that the dust and grime is not on the surface of the mirror, rather on the inside of the mirror, presumably where the reflective surface meets the glass backing. It's an old house, and they are old mirrors. So we've just gotten used to looking at ourselves through a glaze of mid-century dust motes. However, large-scale information is transmitted.

As several other people who have seen this dress in the flesh warned me, the V-neck was a little bit low, even for a flat-chested lady, but I wore a camisole underneath it, and also the green scarf you see. Ain't no one going to be looking at my funbags. As you can see, the dress ended up being a little long as expected, but nothing that needed to be altered. Also: the shoes I love, and they were from Target, their cuteness only enhanced by their cheapness. It was a little cold this morning, so I also put on a yellow cardigan, which also looked sprightly and preppy, but possibly made me stand out a bit, in that everyone else taking the exam that session (and I mean everyone--men and ladies) was wearing a full suit in either navy, black, or charcoal. Compared to them, I looked like the eccentric Psychology professor who swans in at the beginning of lecture in some Pucci caftan wearing those half-profile reading glasses made of blocky rainbow plastic. But I do hate wearing a suit.

Oh, I don't want to push this "I'm so wacky!" thing too far--because whatever, I'm so not wacky--but I didn't have a watch to wear to my exam (in the interest of keeping my hands and wrists as clean as possible at work, I stopped wearing a watch a few years ago, and though I use my cell phone as a clock I obviously couldn't bring that into the testing room) so I borrowed Cal's:

I am not going to tell you anything about the questions that they asked on the exam, of course, because that's illegal, but I can tell you about the exam process, because I think the mechanics are fairly widely known. The oral board exam administered by the American Board of Anesthesiology are conducted in a hotel, which they say is done to keep the costs down of renting a freestanding facility to administer an exam to 1300 applicants over the period of a week. The Spring 2010 session is being administered at the Buckhead Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, which I've never been in, but looks like a pretty nice hotel. It also looks like a pretty expensive hotel, which makes me doubly glad that I live in Atlanta already (there's no rule that you have to stay at the hotel that the test is at, but a lot of people from out of town don't want to have to rent a car and have to figure out how to get to the test site, especially if they're only flying in for 24 hours).

The day started with a brief registration and orientation session, where they checked our IDs and a very nice avuncular anesthesiologist from Durham, NC (no doubt he teaches at the Big University Hospital there that also starts with a D) told us what to expect. He also tried to calm us all down by being super-encouraging and telling us that we had all already passed the exam, because we had gotten this far and had the right stuff, baby! "This is a great day!" he told us. "You've already done the work! Have fun in there!" He was adorable, I loved him. (He also reminded us not to get mad if Bad Stuff happened to our patients despite our best efforts, because that was the point of the exam, to see how we deal with Bad Stuff. Also, THE PATIENTS AREN'T REAL.)

There are two exam "sessions," each lasting exactly 35 minutes and primarily made up of a large "stem question" (usually a patient presentation in the setting of an operative plan). The first session has a big stem with a fairly extensive patient history and preoperative workup--the main focus of this session is in intra- and postoperative management of the patient--and the second session has a shorter stem, with the questions focusing on pre- and intraoperative care. Also to round out each session is a handful of what they call "grab bag" questions, which is to say that they are shorter, freestanding questions that they can ask about, well, anything. You have time to look over each "stem" before you go into the room (there is a series of exam rooms down one whole hallway on several different floors of the hotel--just regular hotel rooms that I believe the board examiners are actually sleeping in after hours) and at the end of each session, someone knocks on the door with a wooden spoon, indicating that your time is up.

This was my favorite part, by the way, the knocking on the door with a wooden spoon. It's a cross between formalized and ridiculous, like something they would do in Skull and Bones. (The other reason it was my favorite part was because that meant the session was over.)

There were no big surprises on the exam. The examiners were poker-faced, as they were supposed to be, and sometimes they would try to push you or tangle you up, "Why not this?" "Someone suggests XYZ might be a better solution--what do you tell them?" But on the whole that was expected and it was fair and before I knew it, the second wooden spoon was rapping on my door and it was over.

So now what do I do? For as long as I remember, I've always had something hanging over my head--either the next set of revisions for my book, or some kind of exam that I had to study for. And now I don't have either of those things. I still will have to take Boards for the rest of my professional life, of course, but if I pass the orals, I don't think I'll have to recertify for something like ten years from now. Even I can't start studying for an exam that's ten years away. So now what do I do? Pick up bocce? Start watching more TV? The possibilities are endless.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a celebratory hummus quartet with my name on it.


  1. Why do they knock with a wooden spoon? Why not their HAND?

  2. For our nursing board prep they used a bull-horn in school, the actual one used an obnoxious sounding bell.

  3. Anonymous4:06 PM

    Love your outfit, LOVE hummus, and big congrats on doing well!

  4. Wahoo, you're done! Congratulations!!

  5. Diana4:28 PM

    WOOHOO!!!! Let me get out the party screamers for you!!! I'm so happy you have the at least 10 years to not have to worry about any boards exam. Will future boards also consist of a similiar written and oral exam?

  6. Anonymous5:08 PM

    congrats! my oral boards (EM) are this weekend in chicago with an almost identical set up (hotel room, etc)... here's to 10 long years!

  7. Thanks everyone! And to everyone who is yet to take the oral boards, I would say that though they FEEL more stressful than the written boards, they are actually easier. How much can they ask you, really? It all boils down to the same few life-threatening scenarios.

    (I have had two glasses of wine by now, by the way. That plus my Asian lineage means PARTY IN THE HI-ZOUS. It doesn't take much. Alcohol dehydrogenase deficiency, etcetera.)

  8. OH_EM_RES6:35 PM

    Congrats on being done :)

    I keep thinking the hotel room thing must be weird. (I don't think we do the spoon thing though, that's just strange!)

    Ours is 5 single and 1 triple case, from what I understand. 2 more years before I have to face the real thing, just mock boards until then. Woohoo. LOL

  9. Yay! So glad it went well. That spoon thing, though. For real?

  10. I swear it was real. They even talked about the wooden spoon during the orientation, calling it "the tradition [they] refuse to give up." Like I said: very Skull and Bones.

  11. Anonymous7:04 PM

    Not to be a total nerd, but as a fellow rocker of the asian-glow I believe it is aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency.


  13. Anonymous9:00 PM

    Congrats on getting past one more hurdle! I just remember feeling numb after my oral exam and praying that I did not have to relive the experience! I passed the first time as I am sure you will, too, stellar anesthesiolofist that you are!

    Keep drinking and hopefully you have tomorrow off!

  14. Anonymous9:33 PM

    Actually it's aldehyde reductase, or alcohol dehydrogenase, so Dr. Au is right. ;)

  15. Anonymous9:39 PM

    A thousand congratulations to you!

    The dress was a perfect choice- its hemline falling exactly where a modest yet businesslike dress should surely fall. You looked fabulous- so many years of work leading up to this point - quite an amazing accomplishment - Great Stuff!

  16. Anonymous9:41 PM

    Congrats! I am procrastinating as I type this because I totally absolutely 100% do not have six exams to study for. And the great fun that is Studying For The Boards is beginning this summer! You know, without exams, I lose all ability to tell time. I blame it on school - it's making me more stupid every day.

    On a completely different topic, which point and shoot do you have/recommend? I'm tired of lugging lenses and the SLR when I'm out of town.

  17. Anonymous9:46 PM

    Congratulations! It's a great day in Atlanta to pass your oral boards!
    All the best

  18. Anonymous10:00 PM

    Congrats! I think you looked great and I'm sure you did great. As someone who is just starting CA-1 this summer (and who also is a switcher from another field) I love seeing how happy you are in your field and how well you are doing.

  19. Anonymous11:22 PM

    Congratulations! :-)


  20. Anonymous11:34 PM

    the test was very fair. i knew it all but just became paralized
    i left totally numb and almost sure i flunked it :(

  21. Anonymous11:50 PM

    YAY! It's done!! I completely agree that it feels anticlimactic once it's done. I wasn't as positive when I was done; I balled like a baby afterwards the more I thought about the mistakes I made. When I was reading this blog, I felt like I was reliving my own orals. I loved the person who offered calming words before the storm. You may be able to find out if you passed on the ABA website before you get it in the mail. I found out that I passed through my friend who looked under my name and it said that I was a "Diplomate".

    On another note, Your outfit looked great. It's good to be different from the norm esp if it's a cute dress.

    Now PARTY ON!!

  22. Congrats on being done! Did you end up taking the B-blocker?

    I LOVE Cal's watch, and now I want one for myself. Where'd you get it?

  23. Anonymous8:54 AM


  24. Cecily11:45 AM

    Yay, congratulations on completing your oral boards and looking fabulous at the same time!

  25. Congratulations on finishing your boards!

    Let me just say that anesthesiologists rock - I had shoulder surgery last week and came home with an On-Q nerve block! I could kiss the dude that put that in!!!

  26. Congratulations!!! That wonderful feeling of not knowing what to do next can last weeks and weeks - completely enjoy the freedom of it! (Well, I didn't have kids yet when I passed my boards and now that I do, I realize that your freedom will last until Cal and Mack require feeding or bathing or whatnot.)

    But still - it is great to have that done and I am sure your shoulders will feel lighter for a long time to come.

  27. Yay! now you'll have time to BLOG EVERY DAY! and tweeter away GALORE. this post had more of your wittiness crammed in than usual. i loved it! not many bloggers actually entertain me, but you regularly do.

    my Docman graduates one month from today! then the real fun begins! (TY) can't wait till he's in your shoes. wait, scrap that, i better enjoy the journey NOW because that's still years and years away. ♥

  28. Anonymous8:05 AM

    Just want to say- I took my boards 7 years ago, and I still feel weird when I watch TV or read at night, instead of studying. I don't think you every get over that feeling!

  29. Anonymous6:05 PM

    the results will be out tomorrow> how do you feel

  30. Anonymous6:32 PM

    i took my board this spring. i left feeling as a total looser. and every time a rehash the question i get more nervous. i knew every thing. the test was very fair but i just became paralyzed

  31. Anonymous9:28 PM

    Try to feel the pain. However, if you consider the money and trouble and
    you will be asked increase semen volume to eat or drink soursop juice.
    This helps support your baby without putting strain on
    your neck and jaw. Skin mangosteen benefits, mangosteen fruit is very good for a strong let-down.
    The vertical press up is also extremely healthy for mothers as well.

    The most commonly recommended is Fenugreek, which smells increase semen volume like maple syrup.

    Look at my web-site Performer5 Scam

  32. Anonymous8:23 PM

    It is an honorable inborn ability: one breast implants financing that should not be
    squeezed together into a bolster across your rib cage and
    the pelvis. A noisy and cathartic act, the pounding can be breast implants financing done.
    Delicately, she cleans the creamy feathers on her breast, fluffing them out one by one, at the least.

    We can have our drug war or we can seek to
    minimise our impact, and that was you gone,
    finished, no chance of recovery. There is running in the morning you
    can see, they make something welcome. Yes,
    cognitively, I know.

    Feel free to visit my web site - Breast augmentation Cost

  33. With Car Rental 8 you can find the cheapest car hires at over 50,000 locations globally.