Top Marks: exams in pandemic

FACEM Ruth-Ellen Marks successfully completed her OSCE in March 2021, following an initial delay to her completion of the Fellowship Written exam.

‘My pathway was somewhat unconventional. I completed my Fellowship with the GPs [Royal Australian College of General Practitioners] and then came back to do Fellowship at ACEM.

‘I was always interested in aspects of being a generalist, acute and chronic. I really enjoyed being a country GP, but I realised I preferred the collaborative working environment more – on the floor – than being one-on-one with a patient in an office.’

She had been planning to complete her Fellowship Written Examination in May 2020, but ultimately completed it in November after it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

‘Initially there was just disappointment. It was not entirely unexpected – we had seen what was going on elsewhere in the world. But the other thing was a sense of relief, just to know either way what we were facing.’

The cancellation gave Ruth-Ellen and her peers the opportunity to reset.

‘I felt ready for May, but in hindsight the extra time feels like it was an advantage.

‘We had already been working towards it. There were definite positives in the extra time to prepare.’

The delay was of course not without its disruptions or downfalls.

‘None of the consultants had non-clinical time and there was a sense that trying to get WBAs and the like done was imposing on everyone’s time.

‘At first, we weren’t sure how bad it would be [COVID-19 in Australia], but then we settled into a routine and some predictability.

‘We had a lot of COVID-19 simulations, did a lot of active learning and guided reading. Watching the hospital system prepare for a pandemic was pretty cool.’

She says her training site – Gold Coast University Hospital – had really good simulation education.

‘The preparation was amazing actually, in terms of what learning there was.’

For those pursuing their exams, Ruth-Ellen suggests starting earlier than you think to prepare.

‘As it turned out, we had the benefit of extra time, but you can build that into your preparation time.

‘Do a preparation course nine to 12 months out instead of two to four months.

‘It’s easy to say, but in retrospect I think I might have felt a lot less stress.

‘Learning can be retained better. Go gently but go for longer.’

She also highly recommends a study buddy and to have a good practice group.

‘It’s great to have a sounding board, to have that time to talk and work with people you know are going through the same thing and experiencing the same.’

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