• Dr Sally Ayesa

The big event

After years of hard work and months of dedicated study, exam day eventually arrives. At this stage, you can't really try and learn anything new - but rather keep yourself in the best condition you can so the hard work you have put in is conveyed in your presentation. Everyone is different, and there are no right or wrong ways to approach it. Indeed, different personalities will have different strategies to keep themselves centred and as mentally healthy as possible.


Here are some things that worked for me or others on the day. Above all - remember to be kind to yourself.


Sustenance

If you are anything like me, when the adrenaline is running you don't feel like eating. With up to four viva exams in a day however, you need to make sure that you keep your energy up so your mind is clear. I had grand plans about what I would eat, but in the end I had to scrap it all and didn't touch the stash of muesli bars in my room. Between every exam I had a cup of green tea, which settled my queasy stomach and was a bit comforting in itself. For lunch I had some rice paper rolls, which actually just picked because after I roamed around the food court and that was all I could bring myself to eat. Listen to your stomach - but make sure you eat and drink something no matter how small.


Tea helped me to clear my head between exams

Support

I was lucky enough to have my husband with me, who understood that sometimes I needed to talk and sometimes I couldn't talk. There were a couple of occasions where we sat in silence while I cradled a cup of green tea. If you do have a support person, be honest about what you need and how they can help. Ask if you need something and remember they are there for you.


If you don't have someone travelling with you, you can try calling a colleague, family member or friend if you need a debrief. Speaking with someone removed from the stress of the experience can be useful to put things into perspective after a station has left you overwhelmed. If you find yourself ruminating on a station, it is best not to extensively decompress around the other candidates so they aren't rattled.


Resetting

A colleague of mine had a hot shower in between every viva. I remembering thinking that it was symbolic as she washed away the previous exam and allowed her to focus on the next one. I didn't do this (re-doing my makeup and hair would have stressed me out more) but this may work for some candidates.


When I needed a reset I walked a few blocks through the Melbourne CBD. I took myself to the State Library with my computer if I needed to review something or switch my focus to the next exam. I did this before O&G so I had foetal Dopplers fresh in my brain, and revised head and neck before neuroradiology as I knew that was a weak point. It helped not because I was learning new information, but that I felt that my weaknesses were minimised and I walked in more confident.


Recharging

I had four exams on day one, and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to feel at the end of it. Would I feel relieved? Would I want to keep studying? Cry? Sleep? Scream?


We made a reservation for dinner on the off chance I would want to go out. Turns out the abdo station broke me and I decided the dinner reservation was a good idea to snap me out of it. So I cried into a cocktail in the heart of Melbourne and felt a little better. I slept early and started again the next day able to put it behind me.


Being able to recharge between the days is important - the two days are a marathon - but everyone recharges differently. Listen to what your mind and body needs, and be open to change plans based on how you are feeling. A book, a Nintendo Switch, a cocktail, Youtube or trashy TV ... whatever works for you.


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