Well, that wasn’t on my 2020 Bingo Card…

Caveat before I go any further: I took my Board exams in Fall 2004 (QE)/ Spring 2005 (CE) for General Surgery, so I’m well removed from the process. I am not a Director of the American Board of Surgery.

Yesterday afternoon on Twitter I started to see comments from general surgery examinees about technical issues with the QE, and as the evening progressed it became downright horrifying to learn about the experiences of the day…much less the subsequent weird interactions with proctors. By the time I woke up this morning, the QE was cancelled, and refunds for the exam are now being generated. I know many of the people working on behalf of the ABS on the issues of yesterday, as well as a path forward, and I retain faith that a reasonable process will be developed (there’s simply no way to call it a good process)- I say that recognizing that I cannot understand the 1000 things that examinees have gone through in the last 2 days.

Many examinees are surgeons who just finished their general surgery training, and this event compounds the trauma of a Chief year sent sideways by COVID with the uncertainty of how the Board certification process will proceed. And, of course, there are those life stressors many are experiencing with moving, taking new jobs/ fellowship positions, and whatever the “usual” family stress is in a pandemic (because, really, we’re all making it up on that front right now). If there has ever been a time to recognize that the health and well-being of our colleagues is at risk, this is it.

So, a reminder, followed by a mini-sermon about staying healthy in the face of unimaginable stress. Reminder: Yes, passing board exams is important. And one high-stakes exam does NOT, believe it or not, define you or your ability to succeed as a surgeon. Thank you to my wise and thoughtful burn surgery sister Laura Johnson for starting those observations this morning.

And the mini-sermon is this: Do what you need to do right now. If it’s be angry, be angry. If it’s playing your favorite kiss off song at maximum volume on repeat, do it. If it’s hiding in the back of your closet, build a blanket fort for yourself and settle in. I’m always going to encourage you to do things that aren’t self-destructive, but if you happened to have an extra cocktail today, I don’t think anyone would fault you (but please don’t drive or ride your bike afterwards!).

And tomorrow when you wake up, I hope you can take some time to think about what self-compassion looks like for you right now. I personally love this sketchnote grid as a starting place. Your version of being generous and kind to you will look different from your best friend’s version for themself and mine for me. There are no right or wrong answers, other than the fact that self-compassion can be a saving grace…right now, and on into your future.

So, figure out what works for you, then spend some time doing those things while you dust yourself off. I will not be over here doing a puzzle, for the record, but I’m pretty likely to be over here with my giant box of colored pencils.

To all involved in this debacle, “I’m sorry” feels inadequate, but I am hopeful that it helps in some way to know that you are seen and that MANY of us who are out here care about your future.