September 18, 2014
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3quarksdaily.com | Article Link | by Carol A. Westbrook
The single most important skill you need to practice medicine is the ability to pass multiple-choice exams. Most people saw their last standardized test when college or grad school ended. No so for us doctors-- exam taking continues until retirement. The process begins with the high SAT score required for entry into a good college, then a high MCAT to get into medical school. In medical school we complete Steps 1 and 2 of the USMLE (US Medical Licensing Exam) and in residency, Step 3. After residency come the Specialty Boards (e.g. Internal Medicine, Surgery, etc.), then the Subspecialty Boards (e.g. Cardiology, Oncology). It continues with re-certification exams in your specialty every 10 years. It does not end until retirement.
So here I am, in my 60's, having to sit for an exam in order to renew my credentials as a Medical Oncologist. If you haven't taken a standardized test within the last decade you will be surprised to find how things have changed. There is no paper, no filling out circles with No.2 pencils, and no exam booklets. The questions are read on a computer screen, and answered by point-and-click with a mouse. The exams are given at a testing center in a strip mall, where other test-takers may be fireman, manicurists, or hairdressers taking their state licensing exams. After passing triple security (two ID's and a palm print scan) you enter the exam room, where you will be directed to a workstation containing only a computer on an otherwise empty desk. No purses, wallets, watches, pens, cell phones, or calculators are allowed into the room. It is dead silent, and anonymous. Nonetheless, you quickly adapt to the computerized routine, and the exam itself is remarkably similar to any other multiple-choice exam. As always, there are a series of single questions and 4 answers, of which only one is right, including the notorious "all of the above" or "none of the above."
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Alison Wood