I just took the USMLE Step 2 CS today (see previous post). It was a long and tiring day going from station to station and putting on the same enthusiastic act ... 12 times over.
So, dear readers, for your benefit I have put together a list of how to prepare for the Step 2 CS. Read on ...
Get First Aid
If you've dealt with standardized patients before for school, the test is not very difficult. However, you should be familiar with the large variety of possible chief complaints the patients will present with and the possible diagnoses you could give them. I recommend getting First Aid for the USMLE Step 2 CS to prepare; it is a thin book and has many practice cases to review for the appropriate questions to ask, the physicals to perform, and sample patient notes. Just spend four or five days reading through this book and you'll likely do well.
WHAT THEY DON'T TELL YOU:
Take the 405
(This is specifically for the LA testing center.) To reach the center, I had to drive on the (in)famous 405 freeway. I never take this freeway, and so with everything people have told me about the horrendously slow traffic, to arrive there at 8am I decided to leave home at 7am. I don't know if these aforementioned people were hallucinating, but there was no traffic on this freeway. None! I got to the center at 7:20am, and spent the remainder of the time sitting in my car, in the dark, 2 stories underground, counting down the minutes. Do yourself a favor and don't arrive too early.
Bring your own food
(I'm kind of a picky eater, so this might be particular just to me.) The testing center does provide you with "lunch", but in reality what they provide are some gross looking pre-made sandwiches. I swear, they must have spent only $50 total on that meal ... for all 24 people. Do yourself another favor and bring your own lunch.
Beta-block with bananas
While I don't get full-blown test anxiety, on big test days my stomach usually does some pretty crazy internal gymnastics. I heard that eating bananas helps musicians with performance anxiety. I thought it might be an old-wives tale, but they followed up by saying bananas have beta-blockers. Hm, now that's something I could get behind. So I went and bought bananas last night, and ate a boatload of them throughout today. I don't know if it was the bananas or the placebo effect, but I actually didn't feel too bad. (Note: after searching the web, there seems to be confusion as to whether this effect is due to beta-blockade or high amounts of potassium.) Either way, I ate so much potassium, it was coming outta my assium ...
Bring parking money
The cheap USMLE bastards have no problem charging you $1000 for this test (not to mention the airfare and hotel costs some poor people have to pay to travel cross-country to reach the testing center). Then, they stick it to you again and make you pay $8.75 for parking. Come on, that's just low. I'd rather they simply make the test fee $1009 and let us have "free" parking. Keep the change.
Don't eat Thai food the night before
I love Thai food. I eat lots of it. I've even been to Thailand and tolerated the food just fine. But, there's something about eating Thai food the night before important events that makes me regret it. I thought my system could easily handle the Thai noodles I ate last night, but I was mistaken. The moment I came within eyeshot of the testing center, I experienced some ... um, unusual ... "GI symptoms". I don't know what it is about Thai food, but somehow it's spicier on the way out than on the way in. This made for a stressful morning, as a few times I had to cut in front of people in line for the bathroom in order to make it.
Lock the bathroom door
Continuing with the bathroom theme, please lock the door to the bathroom when you use it. While we were all sitting quietly in the waiting room before the test began, a woman went into one of the bathrooms. Maybe it was because she was foreign, but for some reason she forgot to lock the bathroom door. A few minutes later another guy got up to use the bathroom. He walked to the same bathroom door, opened it, and then jumped back yelling "I'm sorry!" It was great! But the reason I bring this up is because I replayed this scene in my head during one of my patient encounters, making me laugh at an inappropriate time. So spare your fellow examinees potential embarassment and lock your bathroom door.
Go easy on the tongue depressor.
I suppose this one was my fault. I was doing a physical exam on a patient who was supposedly in lots of pain, making her very subdued and quiet. At one point I used a tongue depressor to push down her tongue. I guess I pushed down a little too hard, because she then gagged, started laughing, and worked quickly to correct her behavior. I really don't think I pushed down that hard, but whatever its cause, it was funny watching her break out of her role for a minute.
If all else fails ...
If for some reason you completely forget what to ask or do next, rest assured you can’t go wrong if you do one of the following: 1) wash your hands, 2) drape the patient, or 3) ask “Do you have any questions?” I feel the only thing the USMLE people care about is the patient and their safety, modesty, and input. So, if you’re hot on the trail of asking the patient about hematuria and you freeze up ... simply drape them (if they are already draped, take off the sheet and just re-drape them). If you’re auscultating the heart and forget the next heart sound location ... just walk over the sink and wash your hands. Don’t know how to respond to a patient who says, “Doc I’m scared, what do I have?” ... just say “I see. So do you have any questions?” What you lack in content will be more than made up by professionalism.
That's it. If even one of these suggestions helps you, I'll consider them a success.