A study break update

Hello to the handful of loyal readers, who continue to support me despite my paltry and irregular posting.

Right now, I’m in the throes of studying for FCA Part 1 (which is more or less the same as FRCA Part 1, except South African). Obviously, my absolute need for focus means that my mind is assaulted by a gajillion fresh ideas that will NOT help me in these very-soon-now-now-around-the-corner five days of exams. Here is a peek into my brain right now:

1. A Mind for Numbers (Barbara Oakley)

I have beeeen meaning to read this (and/or enrol in the MOOC) – and finally opted for the book. I know many people claim to have THE ANSWER to studying, but really, THIS is the book I wish I had read in Grade 8. And again in Matric… And again in university… (You get my drift, or should I continue?) It has pictures (important), and evidence (also important), and is accessibly written (ditto). Far from offering simple platitudes, it holds practice-changing insights into learning and memory. It’s kind of like Manage Your Money, but for studying, and I now recommend it to everyone and their cat.

2. Cost of knowledge, pressure, and CMSA things

I’m not going to address the CMSA exam fees (this is me not addressing it). I do think, though, that the FCA candidate should be able to elect to write two out of the three subjects in one semester, and the remaining in the following semester. (Rather than the current “if you fail just one, you can rewrite that one”.) My hypothesis? Ultimately, the people who are going to pass, are going to pass: ideally, they should pass with the greatest amount of knowledge obtainable.

We’re all working adults now. Studying for multiple exams while working isn’t a show of being able to cope under pressure: our very work as anaesthetists is evidence of being able to cope under pressure.

3. SASA congress 2023

One of the greatest collective influences on my career has been conferences. From MWASA to BadEM, to SASA. While mentally taxing, the opportunity to meet so many people in our field (and socialise with some I already knew) is invigorating. The hierarchy seems to fall away; heads of departments and junior medical officers have lunch around the same table; knowledge and experiences are shared, and heard. The scope of sessions – from environmentally-conscious anaesthesia, mental health of anaesthesia providers, and our role in palliation and end-of-life care; to more “academic” talks: presented by knowledgeable and passionate speakers, they provided me with matter for “diffuse thinking” (refer A Mind for Numbers), and left me feeling like what I do, matters.

My wish is that everyone in medicine might have the opportunity to attend something this life-changing.

Does this make me an idealist? Yes.

Did I exceed my spoons every day? Yes.

Did I eat too much free food, and get enough crappy free pens for my entire department? Also, yes.

4. Marginal gains in the environment

Call me ignorant, but although the concept of “marginal gains” is not foreign to me, I learned the term for the first time in a session about anaesthesia and the environment at the SASA congress. (Basically, the British cycling coach, Dave Brailsford, identified all components of competitive cycling, and postulated that improving each parameter by just one percent, would result in a major additive improvement. Five years later, the team won 60% of the gold medals in all track cycling events at the Beijing Olympics).

So at this congress, exhibitors were asked not to hand out disposable water bottles. Instead, each delegate received a reusable water bottle, and water dispensers were freely available at all venues. Delegates were encouraged to take notes on digital devices, and download pamphlet files rather than taking bunches of brochures that would ultimately land in the bin. (As collateral, my poor stationery-addicted heart had to deal with the diminished amount of free notebooks. I do love me a new notebook.)

There is much to be debated around the actual practice of anaesthesia and its effect on the environment – but that is definitely more than my brain can handle tonight.

5. Gatekeeping of knowledge

I regret most of the textbooks I have bought for these (and other) exams. The more I look at past papers and refreshers, the more I see how impossible it is to study from a single source per subject. And with the price of textbooks, anything more than one per subject is out of the question. Honestly, I get more help from the internet than from textbooks.

I’m sure the feeling is not uncommon, but I REALLY wish people were more open about how they studied for their exams. Resources are great, but only to the extent that one knows what is important. I wish I had used past papers MORE to guide my studying, instead of the common advice to practice past papers AFTER studying.

Learning new STUFF is so gratifying, until I remember how much I don’t know yet, and how soon the exams are, and how much I still need to sleep.

Barb (see #1 above) says sleep is important for memory retention, so on that note: thank you for the midnight chat, and a good night indeed.

1 Comment

  1. I wish someone had told me before medical school that Medicine is just writing exams and studying for the rest of my life. It probably wouldn’t have changed my career path, but at least I would’ve been better armed. Best wishes with FRCA (or the south African equivalent)! I do local exams for internal medicine soon so I’m feeling the pressure too. Studying through past papers helps a lot

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