In 1989, I sat for the surgical boards under the entity then called the American Board of Podiatric Surgery (currently the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery). When you had enough of the required cases and submitted all the charts, you still had to pass written and oral exams. Everyone in the profession knew the weekend after Father’s Day was for the boards in Chicago. My first good set of golf clubs was from my wife for passing the boards. (I still have not broken 100 but that is another article.)
Back then, the boards were not required. There were some, believe it or not, who criticized us taking them as being “elitists” and said you did not have to be board-certified. How times have changed. Now we take the test on a computer in one of the testing centers.
Last week, due to being grandfathered into the boards, I had to take the self-assessment examination. It was the third time and will be the last. I am 65 now and have the next assessment in 10 years. Shoot me if I am still doing this then and need the exam to continue.
The day before the exam while I was in clinic, one of the residents asked how much I studied. I said I didn’t and she gasped. Her perspective so early in her career is to hit the books prior to any exam. I said if I don’t know it by now, so what. Also, my motivation for taking the exam on a scale of 1 to 10 was 2, if at all. On the way home, I did start to panic about not studying but I still could not do it. I planned to take the exam cold and let the chips fall where they may. It sounds brave but there was still a part of me she had poked at.
Surprisingly, the morning of the exam, I was nervous. After all, exams are a big part of our professional life and this was still one to do. Being computer illiterate, I also worried how I would function and hoped if I hit a wrong button, I would not be locked out of the test forever.
The test center’s security was more stringent than what I remembered. I wonder if the Department of Defense is as secure as one of the test center’s rooms. Do they check eyeglasses to see if mine had a camera? “Hey, Mike, I heard you are taking the boards. Would you like the questions for $10,000, which I stole through my super spy glasses camera?”
I began the test and plowed through it. There were a few questions that I wish had one more response as an answer: Don’t do this and/or who gives a damn.
Finished. All in all, I thought it was a fair test although they should let us in with a magnifying glass to see the radiographs or was there a button to enlarge them? Beats me.
As in my testing career, even this late in the game, I worried if I passed and went over some questions in my head. Oops … those are the answers they wanted.
Well, ladies and gents, as a great mentor and teacher often says, I wonder where the time has gone looking at feet and ankles all day, and trying to help patients over the past 35 years and counting. The speed of the years is somewhat the bitter part but as Sinatra would sing, “That’s life.”
The sweet part? I do not have to take another board exam again! Wow! I will let the young ones struggle and take over. Enjoy the ride and all it entails, yes, even the exams. Our profession is a great way to make a living. Just have fun, do not take yourself too seriously, be empathetic and be professional.
Do you want one big hint for taking the exams? If you keep up with the literature, attend conferences and be a lifelong learner, come exam time—should you decide to study—it will be easier. That being said, it is amazing how much a practice and what you do become a little more narrow as the years progress. You realize there are some things you will never see, do or have not done in many years, but they are on the test! Then the answer is “E”: Don’t do this or who gives a damn.
Are we cheating now that I have given you “E” for some of the answers? Don’t worry. No one from the board will ever know.
Dr. Wallace is the Director of the Podiatry Service and the Medical Director of Ambulatory Care Services at University Hospital in Newark, N.J.