Reducing the Intimidation Factor of the Oral Board Exam

Ruby Thomas
Bernard R. Bendok, MD

A growing number of ABNS Oral Exam candidates have added the CNS Oral Board Exam Preparation Early Review Course to their study plans, and that may be due in part to word of mouth. In 2015, 100 percent of participants who completed the course evaluation indicated that they felt the course was valuable and they were likely to recommend it to their colleagues.

Given the popularity of this course, the CNS Education Committee has chosen to move it to a new date and city—Saturday and Sunday, September 24–25 in San Diego, California, immediately preceding the CNS Annual Meeting. This change allows even more participants to attend while maximizing their travel budgets. Instead of paying for flights to two different cities and losing more time in travel, course attendees now have the flexibility to stay an extra night or two in sunny San Diego and catch the CNS Annual Meeting in the same trip.

The registration fee also now includes a pre-course webinar that supplements the live course content with exam preparation tips and strategies. The webinar will feature faculty in each subspecialty.

Robert Spinner and Shelly Timmons join Bernard Bendok, chair of the CNS Education Committee and chair of the department of neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic–Arizona, as course directors this year. Dr. Spinner chairs the department of neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic–Rochester and is boardcertified in both orthopedics and neurosurgery. Dr. Timmons is a director of neurotrauma and residency program director at the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.

In addition to these course directors, distinguished faculty spanning the various neurosurgical subspecialties will engage course participants in small-group discussions, case presentations, and lectures. This provides an opportunity for exam candidates to assess and shore up their knowledge of less familiar subspecialties such as peripheral nerve or stereotactic and functional neurosurgery.

Kendall Lee, professor of neurosurgery and physiology and director of the Neural Engineering Laboratory at Mayo Clinic–Rochester, taught the stereotactic and functional portion of the course last year. Dr. Lee says that for many neurosurgeons, the oral board exam is their first encounter with an oral examination format, and candidates are understandably intimidated.

“You are being examined by masters in neurosurgery, full professors who are nationally known. After spending 15, 16 years of training, you practice for 3 to 5 years before taking the exam, and at that point, the consequences of failing the exam are daunting. If you fail, you have to take it again in a year. Candidates are extremely stressed, and the motivation to pass the first time is high.”

Most neurosurgeons have been away from an academic setting for a few years before they take the oral board exam, so the didactic format of the CNS course is an ideal way to become reacquainted with essential subspecialty knowledge, such as deep brain stimulation for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease—one of Dr. Lee’s areas of expertise.

“Because the CNS course takes place a few months before the exam, you can see where your blind spots are, where your gaps in knowledge are, and you have time to fill in those gaps,” Dr. Lee says. “When I taught it, the participants liked the fact that I told them, this is what you need to know, forget the esoteric stuff, these are the most fundamental, high-yield facts.”

For more information about the CNS Oral Board Exam Preparation Early Review Course, please visit cns.org/oralreview.

BECAUSE THE CNS COURSE TAKES PLACE A FEW MONTHS BEFORE THE EXAM, YOU CAN SEE WHERE YOUR BLIND SPOTS ARE, WHERE YOUR GAPS IN KNOWLEDGE ARE, AND YOU HAVE TIME TO FILL IN THOSE GAPS.