DR. HOOK- Certified Grade A: We docs must take tests too

Standardized tests are as much fun as polio. When I was a high school student, I studied for the SAT all by myself– if you don't count my parents standing behind me with a whip. I didn't live near a city to take an exam prep course, so got two huge-o-la SAT prep books and studied them. I got a hernia carrying them. 

I still remember a sample question, "Maine is to lobster as South Africa is to___?" I knew I was doomed as soon as I read that. I was so nervous when I took the SAT exam that I dropped all my pencils while waiting in line and my eraser bounced somewhere out of existence. I'm sure that eraser is still hidden somewhere in a crack in the Lima Catholic High School.

When I studied for my MCAT exam in college, I had access to the Kaplan course, and I tortured our teacher with questions. I was ultra-prepared when I took this exam, except I could not sleep a wink in the motel room outside the test center. I did everything except inhale the car exhaust fumes to fall asleep.

When I finished my second year of medical school, I took the medical licensing boards part I (there are three parts over a three-year span). This was the beginning of a very long ritual that I would experience in the field of medicine: tests, tests, and more tests. Eventually, after three years of internal medicine residency, I took my ABIM exam (American Board of Internal Medicine) and fortunately passed the first time (pass rate is about 60 percent). 

And guess what? As I write this column, I will take my 10-year ABIM re-certification exam– wahoo wa! Yes, every 10 years, I have to pay over $1,000, pass pre-qualifying tests over a year's time, and then take the Big Shebang. In all honesty, it's a good experience because it makes you study everything and ensures you that you're up to date. It's a lot of work, and it's stressful, but with medicine changing every day, quality control is very important. Most medical centers require their doctors to be board certified in their field.

So, when someone asks me if I'm a general practitioner (GP), I cringe. A GP implies the doctor never passed the Board Certification Exam in the field he or she's practicing. For example, I had a GP who was board certified in, well, anesthesia. When I found this out, I was surprised he didn't gas me unconscious and then examine me. It didn't mean he was a bad doctor, but I wanted a board-certified internist. 

The training and education that goes under the ABIM is important. Internists are required to take 60 hours of CME (continuing medical education) every two years to keep their licenses active. Think about it– if your doctor went through medical school before penicillin was discovered, wouldn't you want him to take a little refresher now and then?

I continue to have nightmares of things going wrong before my examination: flat tire on the way to the test center, I'll get a concussion and not be able to focus, food poisoning to keep me up all night (and running to the rest room all during the exam), Ebola virus in the test center....

I have never done badly on a test, but the old fears are still with me. The good news is that the ABIM examination is totally on computer. I'm not allowed to bring in a wallet, watch, money clip, or even keys. I guess they're going to frisk me like Diana Ross at the airport. But at least I won't drop my pencils and lose my eraser for 10 years.