One of the milestones that comes with residency graduation is becoming eligible to take the Boards for your medical specialty.

For example: In Internal Medicine, your DrSpouse takes Internal Medicine Boards. In Family Medicine, he takes Family Medicine Boards, and so on.

The GREAT news is that the vast majority pass and become board certified. But every year, there are many people who fail the board exam.

That person may be your DrSpouse.

If you are living that nightmare in your family, take a deep breath. Remember, successful doctors have failed before.

You both will overcome this.

Hang in there.

I will share five winning tips that will help when retaking it. Soon, all this will just be a story to tell.

Winning tips to retaking the Boards

1. Allow your DrSpouse to feel and be heard

I once read this quote on Pinterest and I think it’s entirely appropriate for this time of your life:

“Create a marriage that feels like the safest place on earth.”

This is not the time to rehash past behavior. It’s also not the time to go over future strategies.

Instead, when you get the bad news, get a babysitter and have a nice meal. Listen to him talk about anything he wants. Validate and acknowledge his negative feelings.

Of all times to be truly present and supportive, this is it.

2. Stay off social media for a few days

“Facebook depression” is real, and you don’t need to have studied the DSM-5 to know that. There are studies that show social media can really kick us on our backs when we’re feeling down.

So for goodness sake, stay off of social media for a few days until everybody is done congratulating one another.

This is for you as much as it is for him, too.

3. Identify fact vs. myth

A lot of fears can be allayed if we separate what’s true. What you don’t know can send you into a spiral of worry.

Here are some facts you need to know:

  • Some employers do require you to be board certified (BC). Some allow a window of 2-5 years to be BC. Some don’t require you to be BC at all. Check with them.
  • If he is in a fellowship or thinking of going into one, he has to pass it before he can take the subspecialty board.
  • If he checked the box that says he is releasing his scores to his program director (which my understanding is he likely should), he will get the full report including his score.
  • His former co-residents, co-fellows, fellowship program director, and employer could look up the governing board for his specialty and see Pass/Fail. But no one will know his exact score.
  • The general public — your high school friends, personal trainer, accountant —likely won’t know or care to look up so they will never know.

4. Help him stay focused and hit the books again

In the book Drive by Daniel Pink, the author says you want to be where your mind goes into “flow” and you forget the world exists.

Your DrSpouse needs to find wherever this is for him, and help him stay there.

I have a friend whose husband studied at the library and hospital and showered at the gym. They saw each other only on the weekends.

5. Know when to reach out for professional help

As his spouse, you know him better than anyone else in the world. You could tell when his mourning is actually depression. If you think it’s the latter, get a psychiatrist now. And don’t let money be an obstacle. If you have insurance, it could cost just like a primary care doctor’s visit.

Physician suicide is not unheard of after failing the boards, especially when coupled with other stressors like death or illness of a parent, moving away from family support, marriage issues, or any sort of life event.

I know it’s super sad to have to talk about this because of how common depression is in medicine.

On the flip side, how blessed he is to have you to watch out for him.

Review

  1. Listen to him and allow him to express his negative feelings.
  2. Stay off social media for a few days.
  3. Allay his fears by knowing what’s true about failing and what isn’t.
  4. Help him refocus and prepare better this time around.
  5. See a psychiatrist if you suspect he is depressed.

In summary

Not passing the exam the first time feels like a nightmare as it’s happening. But it is just a hiccup. You guys will overcome this.

One day, you guys will look back at all this as another survival story in the medical journey.