Wednesday, 6 July 2011


A lecturer this term stated that, physiologically speaking, you can only maintain an adrenaline-fuelled state of hyperarousal for about 60 minutes. This was disputed by some of the ex-soldiers in my class, but I guess for civvies like myself, it sounds about right.

I held tightly onto this when the OSCE's came around. Written exams never provoke the same level of sympathetic response in me. It's not because they're a "you know it or you don't" event so much as they're a "sit on your arse and only move your hand event".

OSCEs by comparison are a full-systems-go-hello-my-name-is experience with actors or simulated patients and an individual examiner. OSCE stands for Objective Structured Clinical Examination and is just that. There is a task to be completed. You're running through mental check lists: Look, Feel, Percuss, Auscultate if it's something like a cardio exam or Passive, Active, Resisted when you're examining someone's wrist and elbow or even the classic History of Presenting Complaint, Medical History, Family, Social, Medications, Allergies when you're taking a history. You stand outside a cubicle, a buzzer rings, you read your handout, figure out which checklist you're going to need, memorise the patient's name, another buzzer rings and you're in.

You learn to introduce and consent in roughly ten seconds. Maybe 20 if you need to explain a more intimate exam. You're gently smiling, making the right amount of eye contact and trying to remember the first point of call on your checklist.

Checklists beget checklists beget checklists. Remember where you are. Comment on what you don't see. You can't be negatively marked so call out everything. Start at the hands, don't miss the capillary refill.

I sat in the one of my uni's many coffeeshops with my course buddy CRM and we listed 10 things to look for in the hands alone. Just call them out, you're bound to hit most of the ones you need for this specific exam. And anyway, in real life, you'd be looking for everything anyway, not just the finger clubbing of respiratory issues or the leuconychia of hepatic problems.

So back to my lecturers comment. when I turn up to uni before the exam, I sit on my adrenal response. Lots of revision of my checklists, not thinking about the exam. Drink me some coffee, try a little synthetic stimulant replacement. About 30 minutes before the exam, I imagine what it must feel like to stand at the door of a plane in the sky, about to do a parachute jump.

And Woosh

There it is.

At my word, unleash catecholamines.

Energy, alertness, fine tremor, my sympathetic response. My ancestors used this to run from wolves, I use this to stay focussed on a simulation of real life for 50 minutes. Which, incidentally, really doesn't feel that long when you're doing it.

But it's over for another year (god willing and I don't have resits).

I didn't have to revise anything today. It felt amazing.


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  2. Sounds more than slightly terrifying to me. Congratulations on getting through it!

  3. Loathe OSCE's. LOATHE.

    I forgot so many stupid things (resp rate in resp exam being one of my more stellar moves...hepatojugular reflex in cardiac, CO2 flap in resp and asterixis in abdo...oh I could go on).

    Funny thing REAL life with REAL patients I am a pretty damn thorough head-to-toe girl. And people like me, the really like me!

    (That last bit was a Sally Field reference not me being an egomaniac, for the record...)