The Dreaded “B” Word…BOARDS

There are three National Boards exams that need to be taken in order to be licensed. The first part entails 500 questions written over two days. It tests the basic sciences, ocular anatomy, pharmacology etc. The second part, taken over one day, is based primarily on ocular disease, diagnosis, and treatment. The final board exam is an assessment of your clinical skills – can you perform a thorough exam? Phew, sounds like a lot!

I know boards are stressful; I’ve been there. The first one is written during third year while you’re still going to class, writing midterms, and attending clinic. I felt like time management was crucial at this point. I didn’t want to sacrifice my school grades but I still wanted to continue studying for boards. I began reviewing material over Christmas break and figuring out which textbooks, notes, etc. I would use to supplement KMK. January is when I buckled down and began reviewing daily. I found that studying for boards integrated all my optometric knowledge and things began to “click” into place.

Whilst studying, I realized which sections needed more work, mine being optics and visual perception. To remedy this, I pulled out the good ol’ textbooks by Loshin, Brooks and Borish, and Schwartz. I realized that I could no longer know subjects just to “get by.” I needed to understand and apply them in clinically relevant situations. Despite the semester feeling stressful, I had several “ah hah!” moments which made subsequent reviewing easier. Also, the ocular disease class we took during that time was a tremendous help for that section in boards.

I know how easy it is to get caught with boards and have your nose buried in books through all hours of the day. But I forced myself to take breaks, go to the gym, and eat healthy. You need to step away from the books, take a breather, go for a run, and I promise you’ll be just as, if not more, effective at studying.

Part 2 is written during your second rotation (most likely). There is a transition during fourth year (mine happened during my first rotation) when your thought process shifts from that of a student to a doctor’s. That’s what Part 2 is about – cases based on diagnosing and treating – something you do with every patient that sits in your exam chair. I found studying for Part 2 more enjoyable since I was able to translate what I was seeing in clinic to what I was studying and vice versa.

Part 3 (!) is essentially performing an exam and indicating whether your clinical skills are up to par. Nerves still get the best of me and I all I can do is study, practice, and hope for the best.

Passing Boards is a wonderful feeling but I never felt like it defined me as a clinician. At the end of the day, my patients will be the judge of me and the quality of care I provide them.

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