I know it’s a big cliche, but medical board exam prep is a marathon, not a sprint. Trainees have three years to develop a vast knowledge base, and then only a few hours to demonstrate it. It’s easy to think of the boards as the end goal, but really, passing the boards is only the beginning. Then they have to actually practice.
Fortunately, the skills you can give your trainees to help them become effective doctors are the same skills that will help them prepare for their boards. Here’s what they are:
Becoming a lifelong learner
The best doctors recognize that there’s always more to learn. Medicine is a continuously changing art form, and any doctor who isn’t constantly learning will rapidly fall behind.
Lifelong learning is a habit trainees should develop in residency. In order to gain all the knowledge they will need to pass their boards and keep up with the changes in medicine throughout their practicing years, trainees have to do a significant amount of outside reading and studying on their own time. Let them know from day one that they will need to develop an independent study schedule that works for them and stick to it. To do this successfully, trainees must become adept at identifying and evaluating outside sources of information, determining their own knowledge gaps, and consistently finding distraction free time to devote to learning.
Tapping into intrinsic motivation
With all of the news about burnout lately, helping doctors to find intrinsic motivation is incredibly important. Why did you get into medicine in the first place? You knew it would be challenging, exhausting, frustrating, but you also knew you’d have a chance save people’s lives. Remembering what drew you to the field and focusing on the inspiring parts of your job can help you deal with the less attractive parts: the long nights, the miles of paperwork.
The same can be said for test prep. It’s an exhausting, grueling process, and sometimes it seems like there’s no end it sight. Simply wanting to pass the test isn’t always motivation enough. You need to help trainees tap into their internal sources of motivation. They want to do the best they can for their patients. They want to feel confident in their decision making. Keeping in mind that they are not just preparing for a test, but preparing to become world-class physicians, will be a much more effective motivator -
Embracing a diversity of cases and experience
In the real world, trainees will deal with patients whose problems they’ve never come across before. You can’t possibly expose them to every single type of patient or symptom they’ll experience in their practice. This is particularly true for small, rural hospitals, but it’s true even in larger, urban settings.
The same is true for their boards. To help them avoid being stumped, encourage trainees to seek out opportunities to learn from physicians and faculty from other institutions, preferably institutions very different from your own. Even if the learning is virtual, it still provides a more robust experience than they would have at a single institution. The more they learn about others’ cases - and the decisions that were made and why - the more tools they’ll have in their toolbox to tackle unfamiliar situations, during their boards and beyond.