Omaha airport, day 0/7.
The rental car is a Nissan Versa just like my first car. It makes me smile. I’m in Omaha a week before the exam day. My general psych graduation was more than a year ago, and I’ve decided to splurge on a board preparation course. To make up for the splurge, I’ve bid on a hotel that is not the designated course/exam hotel, and offers free breakfast, parking and wifi. Also, there are no nervous examinees staying at this hotel except for me.
The streets in Omaha are curiously empty. Its close to midnight. I check into the hotel and fall asleep into a deep, restless sleep.
Day 1. I register for the course at the boutique course hotel. There is complimentary coffee and tea, hallelujah. I grab a cup of coffee and take a seat close to the back of the conference room. People start filing in- a diverse group with very few white males. Next to me are an older Bangladeshi man and a beautiful woman from Kuwait who tells me Kuwait boards are just like US boards. The Bangladeshi doc tells me he’s been unsuccessful twice. We both shrug philosophically. Maybe third time is the charm.
A chime rings and the course director walks in. He looks different than he did in the course videos- he’s grown out his cranio-facial hair, but his voice remains soft, his tones dulcet- I zone out a lot. It’s a full day of lectures- most of them summaries of the written material. We’re told that day two will be more fun- there will be mock vignettes and live patient interviews. We are all scheduled for one of each, and can pay for more. We are encouraged to form study groups and study our peers perform.
By the end of the day, people are forming study groups. I hang back.
Day 2. At the morning workshop, they have invited a ‘practice patient’, an actor to discuss some scenarios. I volunteer for one. As I walk towards her and introduce myself, the actor/patient jumps off the chair and starts talking a mile a minute, walking, gesticulating, and grabbing my arm. I say her name a few times, asking her to sit, but she doesn’t. She’s pretending to be manic. [Manic patients can be hard to interview in a limited time setting, because they talk a lot and hard to interrupt/redirect.] She goes on to play out a few other scenarios, and we get tips on how to deal with each.
For lunch, I join two army psychiatrists, one of whom asks me if I have a study partner. I like her- she’s calm and collected, and I like how she talks. We team up and interview each other over case vignettes. At the end of the day, we head to the beautiful Old Market area for local ice cream. The streets are still empty, but there is a line at the ice cream shop. I choose a spicy tamarind ice cream. It’s delicious.
Day 3. I watch my new friend do a live patient interview. The patient, this time a volunteer, ‘real’ patient, has dissociative identity disorder. It’s a tough, controversial diagnosis. This patient, while calm, seems to be at the edge of blowing up in anger or dissolving in tears. The doctor does a wonderful job- she manages to explore the effects of trauma without digging into the trauma itself in front of fifty some people. I am impressed.
We go out that evening for dinner- I’m craving anything but shop talk. We discuss our families, training, teachers…and then we go back to talking about psychiatry. It feels good to talk to someone who is not a colleague, discuss cases, and talk about medications. I’m starting to feel more comfortable, and looking forward to my live patient interview on day 4.