Education Lessons Nonfiction Observations

The Oral Exam (III).

We then went to a bar, drank too much, and awoke late for our exams the next morning with uncomfortable hangovers.


We had done our research and intended to have a leisurely dinner at a sandwich shop, but found that it was boisterous and noisy when we entered. Someone in our cavalcade serendipitously ran into an in-law on the streets of Boston and this in-law recommended a seafood joint not too far from where we stood in the chilly rain.

This meal was the highlight of the trip. We spent over two hours at a large table, munching on tasty food in the quiet room on the second floor, trading stories and sharing experiences. We all tacitly understood that we didn’t know when we would have the opportunity to do this again; we had to enjoy these shared moments as they unfolded before us.

After wishing each other good luck, we all retired to our hotel rooms and hoped for a restful night.

I woke up a few times that night, sometimes for unclear reasons, sometimes due to strange dreams that hinted at anxiety, though the content flew from my memory when I awoke.

One of the attendings who had graciously offered to administer a “mock” oral exam to me told me that he himself had taken an official board review course prior to his oral exam. He interlaced his fingers and leaned forward.

“I love your style,” he said, “and you look fine. But I would recommend that you tone your hair down. You want to look as conservative as possible. You just want to pass; now is not the time to draw any more attention to yourself than necessary.”

“No big jewelry,” he continued. “You’re not wearing any necklaces now; don’t wear them on the day of your exam, either. Just wear one pair of earrings; take out that second pair. And nothing dangly. Your makeup is fine. You want to look professional; nothing too colorful. Don’t look like a prostitute.”

He didn’t see my socks, which were as they have been and usually are: Kind of loud and, some would argue, not entirely appropriate for work (not in the “NSFW” sort of way—just lots of stripes and patterns in bright, occasionally clashing hues).

That morning, I heeded his advice: Black suit (the one that had faithfully served me for residency and fellowship interviews) with a splash of light pink underneath. A single pair of faux pearl stud earrings. No necklace. And, sadly, I even wore conservative trouser socks. (If I could do it over again, I would have worn my usual, loud socks.)

I trotted out to the local 7-11 to purchase lunch: a ham sandwich and a bag of chips. I thought about buying a small bag of cookies, but demurred. I could always buy cookies later to celebrate.

My heels clacked against the uneven sidewalk as I made my way to the hotel to catch the bus that would take me to Worcester. My day was about to begin.