45 Hours in Vienna: Exam Day!

Saturday, but no lie-in for me. I am about to sit an oral exam on a subject that I know fairly well, but in English, and with it comes the cultural connotation of always being the stranger.  I spent the past few years working in the United Kingdom and enjoyed it very much until about two years ago, when I experienced something I would rather not discuss here.  To cut a long story short: I took the bull by the horns, left the country, went back to the fatherland and now I am here to sit an exam that aims to “harmonise the knowledge base amongst Otorhinolaryngologists in Europe” (http://www.ebeorl-hns.org). After two really rubbish years, I yearn for  professional harmony. My new job in Germany appears quite harmonious, at least the first four weeks have been good so far. My hospital looks like a latter-day version of the Magic Mountain.

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Many colleagues from other countries that are not EU  also like to sit the exam in order to facilitate finding jobs in Europe.  Many Specialty Doctor jobs in the UK now require it. Or they put it on par with the Diploma of Head and Neck Surgery which is, knowledge-wise, definintely below the EBEORL. In Germany, hardly any one knows about it, except perhaps in units where people are directly involved in the exam.

Anyway… back to the exam. For years, the exam has been held in the University of Music and Arts in Vienna, a huge, Beaux Arts edifice in the centre, easy to reach, perfect for purpose.

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In case anyone is planning to sit the exam I shall describe it here: I arrived and registered in the drafty reception hall, locked all my stuff away and sat and waited. Throughout the day, several groups of candidates will be examined.  Unfortunately none of my mates from the Warsaw written exam were in my group. The exam consists of three stations: Head and Neck, Otology, Rhinology. You will be examined by two examiners at each station, 20 minutes per station. One short look at the list of examiners confirmed that some very well-known people in the specialty would be examining us, and I also find out what sub-group I will be in and who my examiners will be. My group will consist of 24 people. Eight will go into an exam room at a time and there will be eight tables with two examiners on each table.

 

After a rather nerve-wrecking and cold wait we are taken into a large room with chairs in a circle and presented with the exam questions and some notepaper – we have about 45 minutes to read all questions and make notes. I certainly like this part of the exam!

My first station is Head and Neck. I can only remember it as fairly pleasant. Soon the examiners dig deeper than the questions on the exam sheet, but the purpose of the exam sheet is to become familiarised with the case, not have all answers ready.

Gong sounded, and on we are shepherded to Otology. Of course, there is strictly no speaking between candidates at all times. Otology isn’t such fun. I have tow rather brusque people who gun questions at me and then, after what seems like forever, say “okay. we’re done. you can go”. So I hang round by the centre table because the tweny minutes ain’t over yet, while  my examiners have a  coffee and laugh. A nice monitor says to me ” well, it probably wasn’t bad because they are still smiling” but I am really thrown.

Last, Rhinology, also  my favourite subject. Back in England, the people who were not so great to me also happened to be rhinologists, so the love of the subject had waned a little. This time, I am lucky. I get two very pleasant people, one of them – ironically – from the UK. We jog through the questions fairly leisurely and they keep asking more in depth questions – which I am lucky  to know the answers to thanks to an olfaction course  a few years back. All smiles, I bid my goodbyes when the gong sounds and thank them for the pleasant experience.

Then, we are all taken back to another room with drinks and canapes, and, ensconced here for the next hour or so, we are finally allowed to talk. I meet a guy who now works in my old job back in England – small world. But the hour still seems so long. Finally, the chairing professor comes in with a pile of envelopes with our names on it. We are all on the edges of our chairs, but he decides to give  a nice speech first. It is a lovely speech about not failing even when we have not passed the exam (the combined pass rate, is, after all, just about a third) but we just want ENVELOPES! Then, its envelope time. I rip mine open and I find out I passed. I pick up my very artsy certificate and am out of here. I have merely eighteen hours left in Vienna, and this is now time to celebrate.

Here’s a link about the exam, but as it’s in European Archives, you can only access the abstract for free: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00405-015-3499-7

How to pass EBEORL:

  1. Know English and speak it well and fluently. I think many people who don’t pass do so because of insufficient English.
  2. More English: It is second lanaguage for most people involved, including examiners. Be prepared to hear and understand some very unusual accents of spoken English
  3. Know your English terminology well.
  4. Questions are guided and answers standardised. You will not get extra points for waffling
  5. Good books to prepare: Otolaryngology Prep and Practice by Shin and Cunningham is pretty good. So are Viva cases in the Otorhinolaryngologist http://theotorhinolaryngologist.co.uk. There are plenty books on viva practice for the FRCS, but they contain fewer cases and in my opinion offer less value for money.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Practice with friends and colleagues. I applied the same for my board exam six months later and was able to deal with the questions rather than just regurgitate book knowledge.

PS: Six months later, I passed my German Board Exams. I studied with a colleague from work, and we were both very afraid, for different reasons. We sailed through the exam, and it was comparably a couple notches easier than the EBEORL.

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