The Never-Ending Merry-Go-Round of Exams

It’s always a bit odd to go back to work when you’ve been away for a wee while. In FY1, the way I knew I’d been off for a fortnight was that I’d come back and I couldn’t remember any of my passwords or the phone number for the biochemistry lab. I’ve been in only very intermittently since Christmas. The public holidays got mixed up with the weekends and they got mixed up with the one day when I was dying of some awful viral hideousness, and then I was lucky enough to be able to take a week of annual leave before I nipped down to England at the start of this week to sit Part 1 of my MRCP.

I’m sincere about the “lucky”. The stars align well enough to get anyone a whole week off straight before an exam about as often as elephants fly.

But it does bring reality crashing back rather to then go into work and have to answer truthfully when people start asking whether you had a nice holiday. A holiday that consisted mostly in sitting in my living room with the coffee pot and a bank of thousands of practice questions, and in intermittently complaining at Twitter about the surgical patients and small children who kept wandering into my Royal College of Supposedly Grown Up Physicians practice questions, and in cursing the name of aforementioned College, and in occasionally being head-butted by a cat. I diagnosed so many vignettes with obscure enzyme deficiencies that by the end of last week I was starting to pine for real patients.

“I don’t really understand, because you graduated,” said my grandmother, all innocence. “If you pass this one, will that be you done with exams?”

Oh, how we laughed.

I bitch and moan about it, but the thing is that it’s not even that unusual these days in professional circles. There was a time when every conversation I had with my financial friends started with, “What, another one?” and I was mostly the one doing the asking.

I’m not sure how things went on Tuesday. It didn’t feel like as much of a disaster as it did the times I’ve failed it, but I don’t know how far to trust that instinct and so I’m trying to touch wood and type at the same time. I had a brain-freezingly awful moment and nearly became unglued when I thought they might not let me sit it at all, due to an expired passport and a minor difference in my name as I’m registered with the GMC compared with my name as it appears on my NHS ID. But do you remember when I did this exam last year and at the end of it I said that it felt a lot like spending six hours getting kicked in the head by the All Blacks? It could just be that my brain is becoming inured to being used as a metaphorical punching bag, but I felt a little less like that this time around. A little less (not not, don’t be daft) as if I’d turned page after page and said, cartoon stars flying around my head, “I don’t think that’s even a word!”

And then afterwards I met my parents for dinner, because I had taken it in Newcastle. And learned that they had thought I’d been doing the same exam this whole time — being asked the same two hundred questions and just, over and over and over, continually getting them wrong.

So, I don’t want to fail it again. I’m tired of giving the College all my money, for one. But it’s kind of nice to know that even if I do, I’m not actually as dense as it turns out they thought I was.

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