Am I safe surgeon, or merely a board-certified one?

I usually spend Tuesdays fixing elective hernias. But the other day I was asked to clear a c-spine, handle an unexpected gynecologic finding, manage a pediatric trauma, resuscitate a septic ICU patient, and opine on a neck dissection. No, I wasn’t in Africa or 1985; I was sitting in front of a computer monitor.

I took my American Board re-cert recently. The application and test were expensive and inconvenient enough that I thought hard whether certification was meaningful.

I’m glad I took the test. Preparing for it, I brushed up Ringer’s versus saline, plus I learned cool ICU drugs invented since my residency. After the exam I looked up questions I’d puzzled over, including stuff not relevant to my practice. Why? In case I’d failed and got the same question on a future test. And because all surgeons are just supposed to know these things – useful or not.

The re-cert also re-inspired me to re-engage my professional community after a cross-country move and job change. I hereby re-pledge to keep current in evidence-based surgery and attend grand rounds whenever awake.

My exam took place in an immaculate proctoring center better designed for producing video pranks than safe doctors, electricians, and GMAT-icians. As I entered the reception area, a Simon says game was in progress. Ten people were frozen in space clutching venti lattes, locker keys, cell phones, and laminated cards. Some were jockeying for chairs. A GMAT taker under interrogation stood at a locker.

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