As physicians, we are well-acquainted with taking examinations throughout our lives. The process begins as early as high school with college admission tests (SAT, ACT) and continues through each phase of our education and training process, including the MCAT, countless exams throughout medical school, and (for allopathic students graduating in the U.S.) the USMLE step I, II (CK, CS), and III exams. Throughout the schooling process, we devise approaches to study effectively and continue to refine these methods on an individualized basis to perfect the art of selecting the most attractive option out of five for each multiple-choice question we encounter.
The process, however, does not end simply with completing the medical degree. In residency (and some fellowships), annual in-service exams are required, followed eventually by the culmination of board certification exams, which often include a separate written and oral component for many surgical specialties. This may be followed still by periodic recertification exams throughout one’s career.
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The transition that occurs in medical school between the preclinical and clinical years of training often signifies a challenge on multiple levels. Aside from the obvious change in expectations and the shift to a more pragmatic learning environment, we are forced to continue to study and acquire knowledge despite the demanding clinical schedule—indeed, a radical change from the more regimented, traditional, lecture-based approach that got us so far in our careers. We become exposed to and humbled by the infinite and dynamic curriculum that defines the medical field.
The transition usually entails a struggle of redefining the way we approach learning and determining how to utilize the overwhelming resources available. Nonetheless, it is a necessary transition for any physician, as it sets the precedent for lifelong learning.