Exam Hustling

In the MedFI household, in-between the exuberant frivolity of the summer season and the joyous festivity of the Christmas season, lies sandwiched a season without joy, exuberance, frivolity or festivity – exam season.

Burning holes

Doctors are not unique in their requirement to sit postgraduate exams. What seems different to other professions is that medical exams aren’t one-offs nor career-boosting achievements. They instead feel like intermittent patches of treacle, oil or black ice – traps to slip and slide on, become stuck in, slog through. They are a necessity, another hoop that must be jumped, another box that must be ticked.

They are not without their cost, either. Estimates for the cost of postgraduate training are anywhere from £7,000 to £25,000, depending on the specialty. Surgical specialties and anaesthetics rank among the most expensive. It’s a considerable expense to be shouldered by the individual, all for mandatory training. Anecdotally other professions have their exams paid for by their employer, although I’m sure that’s variable too.

Most specialty trainees will pay in the region of £2,000 (1) for the privilege of sitting post-graduate exams; more if they’re not passed at the first time of asking. Longing glances are often thrown by UK clinicians towards the Antipodes – the New Zealand health boards’ policy of paying for the first attempt at a postgraduate exam is just one of many reasons why. Perhaps those across the pond cast equally jealous gazes our way, given the high cost of their medical education.

The temporal cost of exams is not to be sniffed at either. Often many months of study is required. The meagre number of dedicated study days provided by employers necessitates using days off, evenings, weekends or any spare waking moment to engrain knowledge. Certainly it’s a case of hustling one’s derrière to be prepared in good time.

Covid-19, 2020’s unforeseen curveball, has wreaked havoc among the Royal Colleges examination plans. Some were binned entirely over spring and summer. The majority have, along with vast swathes of human interaction, migrated to online fora for the foreseeable future. Despite one Royal College claiming this was their plan all along, the IT snafu that followed would certainly belie that. The online move has stripped away the need for exam halls and the usual examination accoutrements, yet the cost of exams hasn’t changed. Though there’s some outlay required on online platforms or test centres, perhaps the exam boards are engaging in some hustling too.

Making one’s bed

The price of exams and postgraduate training is just another expenditure that must be factored into the aspiring medical FIREe’s plan. Without exams and the associated career progression, there’s a relative glass ceiling on pay (short of hefty locum work, which doesn’t suit everyone). It can be a tough pill to swallow, but one that may ultimately bring about financial independence that bit quicker.

It’s not my intention for the blog to become a vitriolic commentary on the life of a medical professional. The exams are not surprises sprung, but a known part and parcel of the career. Good luck to those who’ve recently sat or are soon to sit them. If you require some motivation, I’ll leave you with the fitting words of the electrician who was around at ours this week: “Well…you wouldn’t want any old muppets being your doctor”.


Mr. MedFI

1 – Cost of Training. Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. (2017). Available here.

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