Reflections of a Board Examiner

About 6 years ago I made a promise to myself that I would try to engage only in activities, personal or professional, which I thought were enjoyable, meaningful, or both.  At that time in my life I found myself stretched thin professionally and academically and I was reassessing what was important to me.  This shift helped to me decide to leave my position at UCSF and start my own practice a few years ago.  With this change, I was able to free myself from certain tedious obligations (academic committees, politics, etc.) and opened bandwidth to allow me to build my own practice, to coach my kids’ sports teams, and to spend more time with my family.

There were, however, a few academic endeavors I chose to continue.  Most prominent among these was my role as a senior board examiner for the American Board of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, or ABOTO.  This governing body provides certification to aspiring surgeons in this surgical specialty.  I was responsible for administering oral board examination questions related to facial plastic and reconstructive surgery (one of the sub-disciplines within otolaryngology).  The ABOTO has a fiduciary responsibility to the public, helping to maintain the safety and well-being of patients by only certifying competent and ethical doctors.  The board examination is an important part of the screening assessment in the process of certification.

Each year, on the flight back home from Chicago, the 3 days of the board exams are still fresh in my mind.  The memories of nervous young surgeons answering my questions, some struggling to find their words, some magnificently flying through the exam, and a few, painfully, falling short.  Though the weekend is grueling for examinees and examiners alike, there is palpable sense of purpose and importance there.  Everyone knows why he or she is there.  The examiners, all leaders or experts in their disciplines and frequently heads of their departments, all volunteer their time for this vital public service, united in purpose.

In a few days I will once again make the trip to Chicago, leaving my family and my practice for 5 days.  Though I will miss home, I truly feel that I am being true to the promise I made to myself five years ago.  As much as any of my past or current professional endeavors, being a senior board examiner has filled me with a sense of meaningfulness and deep satisfaction in serving a greater good to patients all throughout our country.