Taking the Resident In-Training Exam? Here are some post-exam strategies to relax

Anesthesiology residency is a stressful time, especially when it comes to exams. Residents take their In-Training Exam in early February and devote numerous hours to detailed preparation and studying.

Some residents may have family or clinical responsibilities to attend to immediately after the exam that prevent lengthy relaxation after such a stressful event. But prolonged periods of stress can lead to burnout, diminished productivity, and exhaustion, experts say. That makes it especially important to find ways to cultivate a calm mindset, which can improve our ability to navigate stress.

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Strategies to cultivate a relaxed mind can be simple but have substantial benefits. A relaxed mind can improve attention, energy, and creativity. Breathing, self-compassion, connection, and compassion for others are four simple ways to calm your mind during stressful times, according to Greater Good magazine.

It’s also important to put the exam in perspective, said Tim Martin, M.D., M.B.A., FASA, professor of anesthesiology, associate chair for education, and chief of the Division of Pediatric Anesthesiology.

“It helps to try to keep standardized examinations in their proper place and remember they are intended to provide some measure or snapshot of one’s ‘book knowledge’ at a particular point in time, and nothing more,” Martin said. “The real goal is to acquire knowledge and experience and clinical skills that enable one to effectively and safely provide exceptional patient care, not necessarily to score well on some exam, although there is certainly a correlation between the two.”

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Martin recommended taking time, even if only a few hours, immediately after an exam to do something particularly enjoyable as a “treat,” whether that is taking a good outdoor walk or hike, watching a long put-off movie, reading a non-medical book, or having a quiet meal and nap.

Once the exam is over, leave it alone, he advised.

“It is done and no amount of mentally revisiting the questions and one’s responses will change the results,” Martin said. “Move on to something else that you have been putting off doing to allow you a sense of successful accomplishment or completion.”

That could be an overdue nap, organizing or cleaning the house, spending time with a partner, kids, or pet, or an activity you consider a treat.

“Bottom line is to have fun and enjoy the ride — exams and preparation time for them are a fact of life in many professions and occupations,” Martin said. “Move on to ‘real life’ and enjoy once the exam is completed.”