No, it's not about the Super Bowl. It's about the American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination (ABSITE).
Every year at the end of January, all surgical residents take a five-hour, 250 question multiple-choice test. For many, it can be a watershed moment because their careers may be on the line.
I have written about the use of the ABSITE as a criterion for resident promotion. Whether you think it should be or not, it is used that way—sometimes as the only criterion. You can bet that in a few weeks, some residency programs will post notices saying they are looking for a categorical PGY-2 or 3 due to an "unexpected" vacancy for July 2015.
Another attending surgeon and I used to take in-house call the night before the examination so that all of the residents could take the test after a decent night's sleep.
Now the test may be given on different days so that the entire group does not have to take it at once.
One difficult situation I faced as a program director was when I had a good clinical resident who just could not do well on a multiple-choice examination. I had to decide whether keeping a resident who scored at the 10th percentile was worth the gamble. Scoring in the 10th percentile or less on a regular basis means that the resident has a good chance of failing the written board examination.
Of course, the very nature of percentiles is that 10% of those who take the test will finish in the 10th percentile or below. Also, the failure rate of the written board examination has hovered around 25% for many years.
The problem for programs is that the Residency Review Committee for Surgery mandates that 65% of a program's graduating residents must pass both parts of the board examination on the first attempt.
Of the many things I do not miss about practicing medicine during this turbulent era, the palpable level of anxiety surrounding the buildup to the exam and waiting for the dreaded results to come back rank high on the list.
I wish all residents who are taking the test the best of luck. I hope you were reading all along and not trying to cram a year's worth of studying into the week before the test.
May you all score above the 50th percentile.