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Doctors 'Cheating' On Board Certifications

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the bad-handwriting-a-convenient-excuse dept.

Medicine 238

Maximum Prophet writes "After taking board exams, doctors have been routinely getting together to remember and reproduce as much of the exam as they can. These notes are then bound and reproduced. According to the American Board of Dermatology, the exams are protected by copyright laws, and any reproduction not approved by the board is illegal. While I have no doubt that the Board believes this, and pays lawyers to believe it as well, I don't think they understand copyright. Perhaps they should invest in better testing methods."

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IT Certificate (5, Insightful)

anti11es (167289) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923055)

Keep it up and getting your MD degree will be worth about as much as most IT certificates. You can buy copies of most of those tests online from companies that somehow steal the cert test, probably using the same method these doctors are.

Re:IT Certificate (1, Informative)

Gordo_1 (256312) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923079)

Nah, they're protected by a very powerful union [uapd.com] .

Re:IT Certificate (2)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923513)

That's basically a California state employees' union, AFAICT. Private sector docs are forbidden to bargain collectively with insurers.

Re:IT Certificate (5, Insightful)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923085)

Uh, there's this thing called Residency, which is a big difference compared to IT work...

Re:IT Certificate (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923099)

Hey man I was resident in my mother's basement for years to get this IT gig.

Re:IT Certificate (4, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923121)

Uh, there's this thing called Residency, which is a big difference compared to IT work...

Yeah, you get treated like children and work 80 hours a week and get little pay when doing residency.
IT interns get treated like slaves and workd 100 hours a week and often get no pay.

Re:IT Certificate (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923165)

Uh, there's this thing called Residency, which is a big difference compared to IT work...

IT interns get treated like slaves and workd 100 hours a week and often get no pay.

Yeah, and we don't get the "prestige" of being called "Doctor". Also, unlike medicine, we're not guaranteed a very comfortable living for the rest of our lives.

Re:IT Certificate (1)

lorenlal (164133) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923217)

Yeah, and we don't get the "prestige" of being called "Doctor".

Have you ever corrected them?

Re:IT Certificate (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923237)

Luxury!

When I was a little IT MD, we lved in a box in the middle of the road and our father used to beat us to death every night.

Re:IT Certificate (3, Interesting)

CarsonChittom (2025388) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923471)

You had a box? When I was a little IT MD, we let it rain on our exposed corpses after ol' Dad had beat us to death, and we were grateful for the water!

Re:IT Certificate (2)

kcin (34043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923355)

You also don't get a 4 year college degree, spend another 4 years in medical school, and then work 80 hours weeks for chump change for another 3-5 years (sometimes more) while trying to pay off loan interest.

fwiw: I'm in medical school now after coming from EE.

Re:IT Certificate (4, Informative)

Panaflex (13191) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924215)

I'm not opposed to Doctors getting compensated well - I'm opposed to them knifing me in the dark.

A common occurrence - I go to a doctor who's performing a procedure. Before the procedure I ask for an estimated amount. Yes, I understand it can change. Yes, I understand my insurance must pre-approce. I go home, come back and have the procedure performed. After the procedure I ask for my FINAL BILL so that I can pay it. So, I pay the bill and go home.

NINE WEEKS LATER... I get a bill in the mail for 25... 50... sometimes more. There's always some "forgotten" thing that didn't get billed, or an insurance mistake. WTF? Did they not understand? They had insurance approval, they got paid right away. What's the problem here?

I won't pay them - we had a final bill and that's that. You don't get to gouge me a second time. I call them and inform them that my bill was final and paid immediately at great cost and sacrifice to other areas of my life.

If my auto mechanic did this to me I'd tell him off... but for some reason Doctors think they can. No no and no.

Re:IT Certificate (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923259)

I was lucky as an IT intern, I was unpaid but given $500 for gas for commuting. For the entire time I was working there. It comes out to about 9 cents per mile and I wasn't given any extra for driving I had to do on the job.

On the bright side, it was a small company so the president would bring in a case of Heineken to share with anyone else working late.

Re:IT Certificate (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923353)

I was thinking you'd accept unpaid work if it was a massive company.. I don't know why you would accept that for being at a small company though. Hour-for-hour I got paid about 40% of what I do now when I was a student.

Re:IT Certificate (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923575)

I would think the opposite: a small company might give you something really meaningful to put on your resume, and a very personal recommendation when you go job hunting. A large company is generally going to have you run errands for coffee, and send a form letter if anything.

Re:IT Certificate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923807)

For the CISSP you sign an agreement that bars you from doing this, and can be used as grounds for revoking it. I'd imagine other certs do something similar.

MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (1, Interesting)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923179)

MD degree is to long and the school mindset may be to much drilled in to people. Going to med school do they really need a full 4 year BA with all the filler classes before med school? Why not 2-3 years and then Med school? Now I can see what that setting in a class room for years with lot's of tests and some stuff that you will never use can do to your mindsets. Testes become more about craning for the test then studying the full topics. Now some of this comes from poor tests and the other part comes from the tech the test idea.

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (1, Troll)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923349)

You can say this for any degree. Half of my EE degree was bullshit filler courses, but without them the school can't be accredited.

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923581)

Bullshit is entirely subjective. I know engineers who are focused on engineering to the extent that they know (and care) nothing about anything else. So maybe you have a point. People like that do the bare minimum work necessary to pass their out-of-major courses and retain nothing. Maybe it's not worth teaching some people anything but what they will most predictably use in their career.

But a doctor is more than a technician. He or she is in the business of caring for people. A one-dimensional engineer might be competent and get the job done, but he might lack in creativity -- I know plenty like that. A one-dimensional doctor doesn't understand his patients. He doesn't understand that two patients with the same disease may express themselves in very different ways or that two patients that *say* the same thing about their condition may be describing different systems. He may not understand the psychological aspects of living with disease. Etc.

The more a doctor knows about PEOPLE, the better it enables him to practice MEDICINE.

To some extent, the same is true of engineers and programmers. You might know how to perform a certain task, but where do you learn to understand what customers want? They sure to hell don't teach that in your engineering classes and it damn sure is important to know.

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923627)

It's saddening to see that the overall intent of a university curriculum, which is to both nurture the well-roundedness of the student through exposure to a number of, potentially disparate, disciplines and also impart some measure of domain-specific knowledge, is being unjustly frowned upon and criticized by many such as yourselves. Instead of dismissing the courses outside of your major as unnecessary, you should view them as an opportunity to not only try and expand your capabilities and views, but also bring a fresh perspective to those fields that may end up being of use to others.

As an example from my own life, I ended up taking a handful of philosophy and cognition courses, as a sort of stress relief, while finishing up the dissertation for my maths Ph.D. Thanks to my years spent, as a doctoral candidate, pouring over thousands of manuscripts, I was able to propose some rather interesting ideas/theorems focused on a nonlinear dynamical system standard of thought. Had I not opted to take those humanities classes, I probably would have never considered merging the concepts together; at the same time, those in the class would likely not have come to view maths as an excellent tool for building up their own theories.

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923709)

It's a shame that you were modded down all the way to -1.

To back you up, how many pill-rolling M.D.'s do advanced organic chemistry in between putting their stethoscopes on chests or molecular pharmakokinetics in between viewing earwaxes with their otoscopes?

How many mechanical engineers use thermodynamics when they're in their cube drawing screws and hinges?

I think you hit a little too close to home all those hollow, cubicle-dwelling husks with mod points.

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (3, Interesting)

nbauman (624611) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923557)

I want to go to a doctor who studied a year of molecular biology as an undergraduate. I don't want him to get his education on the job from the drug company salesman.

I believe in a liberal education. I also want a doctor who took a few courses in English, poly sci, economics, history, etc. I want a doctor who can write a coherent sentence and read a well-organized article. I want a doctor who knows when the American Medical Association is trying to put one over on them. I want doctors who know when their politicians are trying to put one over on them.

Right now the Obama administration is making promises and assumptions about the value of health care IT that are (sometimes) patent nonsense. I want doctors to know enough about IT to understand that.

There's always the question in medical education of, "How much is enough." I'd rather err on the side of too much. Especially when that doctor is applying a sharp object to my testes.

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923635)

I want a doctor who knows when the American Medical Association is trying to put one over on them.

That's easy: they always are.

I want doctors who know when their politicians are trying to put one over on them.

That's easy: they always are.

I want doctors to know enough about IT to understand that.

Here is the usual physician response to IT: if you're making our lives simpler, it's great. But if anything has to be done on the computer, it's probably just saving the hospital money by making doctors (who don't usually work for the hospital) do the data entry job that used to be done by a clerk (who did work for the hospital).

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (2)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923827)

As a molecular biologist I have to ask: how would that matter? The MDs that have patients don't really need to be thinking about ATPases or the Michaelis–Menten equation. The MDs that are taking basic research and putting it into the field seem to be getting their PhDs which can't be easily faked. And the just regular PhDs are in theory doing the really basic research that involves knowledge of mobio, we don't go to med school or see patients.

The only reason I can see for wanting a premed student to take molecular biology is to add another level of selection to deter the weakest students from becoming doctors.

Interestingly, I've heard that the major that scores the highest on average on the MCAT is actually not premed, biology, or chemistry. Philosophy majors do the best on the MCAT. Granted, there's a lot of self-selection going on there, they probably make up at most 1% of the MCAT takers, and the MCAT is not necessarily an indicator of who will be a good doctor.

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (2)

portraitofsanity (870052) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924381)

You bring up the M-M equation as something a doctor seeing patients wouldn't need to know. I do expect any doctor I go to to have a firm understanding of enzyme kinetics when it comes to prescribing drugs. Easy example. a misunderstanding of the widely variable half-life/alcohol effect on the half-life of methadone has led to more than a few deaths in pain patients/recovering addicts. Any decent physician in a large number of fields needs to stay current on new drugs/treatments. The understanding of continuing education courses and being able to determine whether something they are reading in a medical journal is feasible/utter bullshit is not something reserved for MD PhD's. Molecular biology (and just extra science courses in general) is essential these days as it is the direct that a lot of medicine is going I don't know if you've taken the MCAT, but the way of a lot of questions are presented (even in the biology & physical sciences portion) is more of a straight logic problem/understanding of the scientific method. On top of that a while back, liberal arts people complaining about the biology/chem major advantage had a larger portion of the MCAT pushed into the humanities realm.

Re:MD degree is to long and the school mindset may (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38924273)

My wife is a physician (not "doctor", PhD's are frauds, I know, I supported plenty while working at the computing center after i graduated),

She got one of the last 6 year MD's from our university. It was difficult, but she was more than up to it. Ba. in English in 2 years, then 4 years in med school.

Good program, plenty hard. But you? You know nothing. The place to concentrate on reform is internship and residency, where they work people nearly to death.

Joe, meet a doctor. Learn something. Then come back. Retard.

Re:IT Certificate (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923491)

Do you like sucking dicks?

Re:IT Certificate (1)

GizmoToy (450886) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924261)

That might have been true if there weren't such a thing as a residency. Residency is the true limiting factor in the amount of certified doctors in the workplace, not the board certification test. While there are a small percentage of doctors who go through residency and fail boards repeatedly, the majority pass without further incident... even without cheating.

On a slight tangent, what is a cause for concern is that doctors are retiring faster than they're being trained. With the Boomer population aging, we're heading for a major shortage. The number of residencies in the country is primarily set by Medicare (though there are some privately-funded spots), which could be an issue should one of the attempts to slash Medicare funding ever go through.

Contract Law as Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923059)

I would be surprised if the people taking the exam didn't sign something saying they would not disclose any part of the exam to anyone. These sorts of things are typical and are binding.

Re:Contract Law as Well (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923589)

It may be binding contract law, but it's still simply not contract law "as well" (as well as copyright, I infer, since that's what the article summary says). "Something written down is involved" is not the same as "copyright is involved". "Somebody made notes we don't like" is not the same as "Sombody violated our copyright", etc. The problem here seems to be that one type of law may be being broken, but the exam people are hollering about a completely different type of law. For just one, any contract is probably state law and would be tried in the courts of whatever state the exam was offered in. Copyright violation would be a matter for the federal courts instead. Now, normally, if you get Raped in Chicago, and you try to have somebody charged with Tax Fraud in Texas to fix the problem, the court sees you as the problem. You don't get to win just because you have the right name on some papers, but the wrong crime, the wrong jurisdiction, and so on.

Re:Contract Law as Well (1)

tragedy (27079) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923795)

Binding maybe, but it's a contract of adhesion. Contracts of adhesion are not automatically invalid, but you generally need to make a very strong case for them if you want them to stick in court. Of course, I am not a lawyer.

that happens on all sort of examination (3, Informative)

ketamine-bp (586203) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923067)

not just medical examination. it is just a co-incidence that the medical profession is one that is tangled with most examinations. speaking of examinations, though, the most important examination for us medical doctors are usually conducted in the oral style (viva examination) which allowed impromptu questions set immediately, testing the doctor on how they would handle a patient step-by-step. i'm not sure about the american system but that's true for most british systems.

Re:that happens on all sort of examination (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923667)

yes, oral exams are part of most american medical examinations, depending on the specialty.

From An Insider (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923073)

Speaking as an MD, and posting anonymously through more proxy jumps than you can count, I can tell you that the ABR is a disgrace.

They have elected to ELIMINATE the oral exams. Whats next, calling us providers?

Humans are not computer problems, and solving computer questions is not an appropriate screening method for certification.

Bottom line: Oral Examiners should be PAID, CAREFULLY TRAINED, GRADED and only the BEST kept year after year... like NFL REFS !

Of course, the overpaid ABR administration might* have to take a pay cut to achieve this.... AND THEREFORE, THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

A DISGRACE UPON MEDICINE

Re:From An Insider (1, Insightful)

quantaman (517394) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923119)

Speaking as an MD, and posting anonymously through more proxy jumps than you can count, I can tell you that the ABR is a disgrace.

They have elected to ELIMINATE the oral exams.

Did they give a justification for this? I can think of two reasons.

The first is cost, which you seem to blame, where the written exams are cheaper to administrate.

The second is CYA (Cover Your Ass), that for something like licensing, if someone complains about your decision (you fail someone, or you pass someone who later gets involved in a malpractice suit), it's a lot easier to defer blame to a written test. (of course they probably wouldn't admit this reason)

Mouth doctors and deaf doctors (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923213)

They have elected to ELIMINATE the oral exams.

I thought oral exams were the whole point of, say, becoming a doctor of dental surgery. Even if (as I suspect) you meant the other meaning of oral exams, are oral exams offered in a sign language, or (as I likewise suspect) is hearing considered a bona fide occupational requirement?

Oral Examiners should be PAID

And I do so twice a year, so that I don't have to brush, brush, brush all the floors in Hyrule [youtube.com] .

Re:Mouth doctors and deaf doctors (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923621)

The oral exams were available in ASL.

Re:From An Insider (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923263)

hm; arrogant and paranoid. yeah, you probably really are a doctor.

Re:From An Insider (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923343)

R = radiology? The oral examinations are alive and well in anesthesiology and the surgical specialties. And the cost is covered by the examinees. The American Board of Anesthesiology, for example, charges $950 just to enroll in certification. The written exam is $600 and the oral is $2100. And they get another $2100 for every ten years for the re-examination.

Re:From An Insider (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923397)

I can count to four, although I'll take your larger point.

Re:From An Insider (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923601)

The computerized testing for the NCLEX is a joke as well.

You have diploma mills which basicly make mastering a NCLEX study exam as a requirement for passing. The amount of clinical time is at the bare minimum, so you have gradutes who can recite some obsurce factoids, but can't reason their way through a presentation.

They should honestly do away with the computerized testing and make clinicals the testing environment.

But at $200 a pop and testing that can easily flunk or pass the same person with no changes in their knowledge base, someone is making money off of the testing.

Re:From An Insider (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923809)

Totally disagree about the motivation for ABR getting rid of the oral exam. The senior board members wanted to milk more work out of their 4th year residents instead of have them study for the oral boards for the last half of the 4th year. Therefore, they changed the exam to over a year after residency.

Re:From An Insider (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38924245)

Why would they eliminate oral part of the examination? The only thing I can think of is that because of the growing sick population and they need a lot of doctors so they will make it easier to pass the test.

Dk

I'm torn... (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923075)

On the one hand I don't want doctors to cram for the exam or to "learn the test".

On the other hand, I've taken standards tests myself for technology subjects, and there's often a lot of inane questions that don't really apply to the actual day-to-day job.

I guess that many organizations are guilty of this. There are probably a half-dozen test-prep organizations for high school students, technical learning, non-technical government licensing, and the like.

Re:I'm torn... (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923105)

There are probably a half-dozen test-prep organizations for high school students, technical learning, non-technical government licensing, and the like.

And they pay to use test prep materials sold to them by the copyright holder.

Bad teachers always seem to assume (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923083)

That if they just ensure they collect the exams at the end, and forbid copies, and forbid anyone talking about the exam, that they'll never have to write a new exam.

Re:Bad teachers always seem to assume (2)

Barbara, not Barbie (721478) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923595)

Economists have the system beat.

A chem prof and an econ prof were discussing how to prevent cheating. The chem prof said she was having a hard time coming up with original questions every year. The econ prof said she just gives the same test every year - she just changes the answers.

What a racket!

They are stuck in a catch 22! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923087)

Doctors are high competitive on these tests and those with the best scores have the best opportunities. This means they can't have vastly varying tests or the results would vary creating an unfair advantage. This is easy to work with on the mathematical side, you just change the numbers and people have to know the formulas etc to make it work. However when you come to diagnosis questions etc... they have to be the same standard and overall difficulty to be a solid measure test.

I remember back in the day when people took the CAT. Some versions were much harder and graded differently. Do of course they protect the tests... but this is where they need to change their methods completely because they are outdated now. I wonder what will happen in the future.

Simple solution (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923549)

...those with the best scores have the best opportunities. This means they can't have vastly varying tests or the results would vary creating an unfair advantage.

There is a very simple solution to this: make the test pass or fail. If medicine is similar to research then, once you get over a certain level of competency it is motivation and interest that is most important not whether you scored 80% or 90% on an exam.

Even if you want to keep public scores you can build up a large question bank of previously asked questions for which you know the difficulty and then randomly choose a few of these questions to put in an exam, along with new questions. This lets you normalize the difficulty level and each exam's new questions get added to the question bank making it harder for anyone to learn all the questions.

Re:Simple solution (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923661)

We have a competitive application system in the US by which residency slots are allocated to medical students. Just as there are more applicants to med school than there are admission slots, there are more applicants to highly-competitive specialties than there are slots. Having clear, nationally-comparable test scores is much more meritocratic than reserving all the [CHOOSE HIGHLY COMPETITIVE SPECIALTY HERE] slots for graduates of the top ten med schools.

We need the Autodoc (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923103)

so we're not treated by hacks that cheated on board tests...

this is a sign that the overall school / testing n (4, Insightful)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923123)

this is a sign that the overall school / testing needs change and new ways to learn / test people. We need more apprenticeships / trades learning system and less end less classroom with test that people who can cram can pass and get rid of tests that have little to do with the real job.

Re:this is a sign that the overall school / testin (1)

sgunhouse (1050564) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923381)

Some of us don't need to cram ...

Truth is, I took so many tests in school I got to the point where I could outsmart the test. There was one contest I participated in where I knew none of the material (I hadn't taken the course yet, but no one else at the school wanted to represent the school so I took the test anyway) and came in fourth out of participants at that testing center. Okay, maybe only a couple of hundred people took that test at that location, but I think that's pretty good. In fact, I did better on that test than I did the one in my real subject area ...

No, you can't fake essay questions or orals or stuff like that - but those actually require people to grade them, not computers (as in, too expensive).

Re:this is a sign that the overall school / testin (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923669)

more apprenticeships / trades learning system

More than 80 hours/week in residency? Of that, no more than about 5 hours/week is direct didactic learning.

Why the scare quotes? (4, Interesting)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923137)

I thought prohibiting students from sharing past copies of tests was a standard and acceptable method. Is it because they are using copyright to attack the practice?

Re:Why the scare quotes? (2)

NoBeardPete (459617) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923449)

I was going to post the exact same things. If getting information about previous exams is cheating, it's cheating. The people designing a test get to define the parameters of what's cheating and what's not. On some tests you can use a calculator. Some tests are open book. For others tests you aren't allowed to look at previous administrations.

Now, the question of what's legal is a separate issue. You can cheat on an exam without falling afoul of the law. Depending on the exam, you could follow the rules of the exam while breaking the law. The issue of cheating is exactly orthogonal to any questions of legality (excepting possibly exams with legal consequences - so your Step I and II exams might be a different story).

Re:Why the scare quotes? (2)

BitterOak (537666) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924113)

If getting information about previous exams is cheating, it's cheating. The people designing a test get to define the parameters of what's cheating and what's not.

I'm sorry, but I disagree with you strongly there. The people administering the test do get to decide what is allowed and what isn't allowed in the examination room, during the test. That includes, as you point out, allowing or disallowing calculators, text books, or whatever else they wish to prohibit or allow. But that authority stops at the exam room door. What you do on your own time to prepare for the exam, or who you talk to and what you talk about after the exam is your own business. There are of course exceptions to this rule pertaining to especially egregious conduct, like breaking into a professor's office before an exam to steal a copy, which is clearly cheating, but nothing like that was going on here.

I've taught at both the university and high school level, and the rule of thumb that is generally followed is that once an exam is given to a group of students, and they leave the examination room at the end, that exam becomes public information, and if we assume otherwise, we give some future students an unfair advantage over others. I photocopy and hand out previous years exams (which I have created) to students, both as a study aid, and as way to level the playing field. I think these medical exams should be run the same way, in the interest of fairness.

Re:Why the scare quotes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923459)

It's because you can't use other laws to ban things that aren't illegal in the first place? Sherlock?

Re:Why the scare quotes? (2)

Gideon Wells (1412675) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923473)

And I don't see why the tests themselves can't be copyrighted. The answers and ideas might very well be ideas and facts, but the questions used to illicit said answers can be unique/original enough if sufficiently verbose to qualify.

Re:Why the scare quotes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923979)

This is just laziness out of control. If they created a new exam each year and required paragraph answers they could make money selling the old tests and it would be a rigorous test.

Rote learning is the tragedy we will always face (4, Interesting)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923145)

The American method of 'learning' is mostly rote learning. This does not help. As Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

How shall we as Americans be able to steer our future when what we mostly test is the ability to cram? As a former educator, one of my best times in class was when a student was 'teaching' me. Even when they were wrong, the dialogue enriched both of us and for the student, it was invaluable.

Multiple choice questions make matters worse. No wonder foreign kids beat us in math and science. It's not funny at all.

I had a chance to teach a group of refugees from an African country and it was amazing to see how they approached a problem. While our Americanized kids reached for their calculators, these kids internalized the problem in their heads, then wrote down the range of where they thought the answer would lie, then solved the question. 100% of the time, they were right.

I will ask my doctor what she thinks about this issue when I see her in a fortnight.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (3, Insightful)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923269)

in most subjects i would agree with you, but i don't think i would want an imaginative doctor (at least not at the expense of a strong level of basic competence). some things damned well should be done by rote, based on centuries of hard-won experience.

some people do have to come up with the new stuff, but most doctors don't and shouldn't be trying.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923289)

This isn't just an American problem. China, India, and surely other parts of the world have this problem as well. At least there are some decent upper education options in the US. In India and China it's even worse in upper education.

Most of the world's education systems are still based on the outdated methods developed in the 1800s, where they were basically designed to produce workers for industrial revolution conditions. Computers and other automated systems take care of most of that now, it's obviously time for a radical change.

I would imagine that changing the system is extremely difficult though. Just imagine what a meeting of hundreds of authoritarian educators trying to reach consensus must be like. PTA meetings are bad enough...

well we need tech trades to take the pressure off (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923399)

well we need tech trades to take the pressure off of the old higher education system.

Now the tech schools are a good start but they need to be better / offer apprenticeships.

I say a real apprenticeship and not just interns no a mixed classroom / apprenticeship system. with a real counting education system that higher education is poor at offering.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (3, Insightful)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923309)

The American method of 'learning' is mostly rote learning

Overall? No. I'd say the US has been much better in this respect than many other countries. (Though "No Child Left Behind" has done its damndest to screw that up by encouraging teachers to teach-to-the-test.) However, it is like this for premeds, and that's what matters!

Why? The stakes are too high. Push up the stakes high enough, and people don't think; they memorize. Indeed, when faced with very high incentives in psychological studies, people bomb IQ tests. You can't think when something as important as a career as a doctor is on the line. (That's why classes need to be exactly as hard as necessary -- and no easier -- but also no harder!!)

It's also how biology is taught in college. "Go memorize this arbitrary chemical pathway. No, we won't talk about 'why.' Yes, you can forget it later. We all know this class is just for weeding, anyway." Partly because it's all premeds. (And partly because there's no helping the fact that, compared to physics, biology is much more about facts than principles. It's messier. Such is life.)

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923517)

Biology can be fun when taught by a competent teacher. My anatomy class in high school had one of the best, and she'd obtained a grant which she used to buy crazy supplies to supplement her lessons. Pool noodles became striated muscles and we spent a food amount of time shoving the noodles in sort of an interlaced pattern while she shouted "Calcium uptake! Calcium ion release!" I guarantee you ever single student in that class is fully aware that it is the calcium channel that moves striated muscle, to this date, even though that class was 15 years ago.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923527)

*A good amount of time. We may remember the calcium, but we still do not always proof read...

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923735)

Please do not compare what you went through in high school 15 years ago to real learning. It's an insult to real learning.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38924149)

While it's good that lessons were engaging enough that many students learned how muscles work, it's just a mostly useless fact. Science classes need to be about more than just memorizing facts. Encourage them to experiment and to apply the scientific method, even if it's nothing too complicated and make sure that they know it well enough to apply it to other parts of their life. Science isn't just a collection of facts, it's a process and something that can be applied to just about any discipline.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923577)

Back when I was a chemistry major thinking I wanted to be a chemist, I laughed at premeds for their memorizing, don't-care-why, grade-grubbing ways. Then I realized I didn't like being a chemist (thankfully before I graduated) and decided to go to med school. When I got there, I realized that all those premeds had spent four years acquiring skills that were actually adaptive in the med-school environment. Everyone there is smart - not gobsmackingly brilliant, and often fairly conventional in their thinking, but definitely smart. They're all motivated. They all study hard. And so the only way to distinguish yourself in that crowd is to be able not only to know all the basic stuff but to know all of the minutiae as well. The why is unimportant, because professors who don't have TA's can't (or won't) grade 100+ essay exams when the expected turnaround for scores is 2-3 days. You won't be tested on why. (If it really matters, you'll learn why later.) But you'll be tested on the drugs nobody has used in 20 years.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (2)

eldorel (828471) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923857)

The American method of 'learning' is mostly rote learning

Overall? No. I'd say the US has been much better in this respect than many other countries. However, it is like this for premeds, and that's what matters!

I have to disagree with you here, TerranFury.
It's not just premed that is taught in this fashion, it's everything up to and including premed.

The US education system was specifically designed to prevent the development of critical thinking skills and logical analysis.
Unfortunately, by the time students reach premed/grad school it is too late for them to start developing these skills.

You gave a perfect example yourself,

It's also how biology is taught in college. "Go memorize this arbitrary chemical pathway. No, we won't talk about 'why.' Yes, you can forget it later.

This type of education is not teaching the student anything other than how to memorize and follow someone else's directions without question.
I wrote a rather long comment here [slashdot.org] about exactly this issue.

To summarize it, I'll just copy the pertinent paragraph here.

Our system works well at doing one thing, creating content, bored, consumers.

Our Current education system is strongly based on the principles of a man named John Dewey, feel free to look up information of the phonics vs whole word method online, but I'll try to summarize it for you.

Basically the whole word method is a method of teaching via rote memorization instead of with critical thinking.

Instead of giving a child the building blocks to sound out the parts of a word (via latin roots etc) the child is taught the entire word as a single chunk, and never shown the underlying methodology.

This method is consistently repeated throughout our educational system, with students being given subsets of data and told to memorize them. The same information is often repeated through multiple semesters and even years, but the student is never shown the actual underlying reason for why the data is what it is. (another good example is history classes, how many teachers proved a timeline or list of dates to memorize, but don't go into detail on the social motivations for the events?)

A big side effect of this method is that the student never learns the methods for independent thought/study and critical thinking is left out of the curriculum completely. Why?

Because teaching critical thinking skills creates people who can think for themselves and are less likely to follow the status quo.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (1)

larkost (79011) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923319)

I went to school in Austria (Alps, not kangaroos) for a year after having grown up in the US school system (Wisconsin, so a good part of it), and I have to say I disagree with your assertion that the US is more about rote learning than Europe. And my wife (Hungarian) was amazed at how much better the university experience (grad school) than anything she saw at home. And her limited experience with grade schools really amazed her at how interactive the classes were.

It is not that we here in the US fall back on rote learning that is causing us to suffer so badly in math/science education, but rather I think it is the following things:

1) Those test scores are not always as comparable as you might think. One big problem in comparing test scores between the US and Germany/Austria is that in the US everyone takes those tests, while in Germany/Austria only the "Gymnasium" (college bound) students do. Sometimes the tests can adjust for this, but I have seen may that don't.

2) We in the US look down on teachers with phrases like "those who can do, those who can't teach", and channel all of our best students away from teaching. That we have so many great teachers willing to take the small salaries that they get, the total lack of support from the communities (in some cases), and the political abuse that the Republican party has been hurling at them for a generation now just shows how dedicated those people are.

3) The amount of time and effort that parents put into making sure that their students do well in school has bottomed out in the US. Since the parents don't care (or don't have the time to care working two jobs) their children learn that it is not important to do well. Compare this to the Asian stereotype (which has some truth behind it), and you can realize how much an up-hill battle many teachers are facing.

4) Teachers Colleges are badly organized, and heavily weighed towards liberal arts. So of course their graduates tend to have less skills in math/science. There are a lot of people in those organizations who want to do better, but the spark still has not been lit of a renaissance there.

5) There has been a cultural war waged by social conservatives to undermine science because they dislike evolution. You can't teach the scientific method effectively when the student's parents then dismiss the science out-of hand. A similar argument is just as valid in the global warming conversation.

6) Our popular media has been portraying scientists, and smart people in general, in a negative light for a long time now. Part of this is because most of the people who write for the popular media probably identify themselves as "liberal arts" people (they are writers after all), and so re-enforece the hierarchy that has them above the "nertds". So of course they are going to tend to portray their heroes as people like they envision themselves.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (2)

w_dragon (1802458) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923453)

Teachers Colleges are badly organized, and heavily weighed towards liberal arts. So of course their graduates tend to have less skills in math/science. There are a lot of people in those organizations who want to do better, but the spark still has not been lit of a renaissance there.

Canadian here, so I'm not sure if this applies to the US, but here our teachers' colleges select largely based on university grades with no consideration to major. At the university I went to 50% was a pass pretty much school-wide, but most science/engineering students required a 60-65% minimum average to stay in their program, while most arts students required a 75%, and the class averages reflected this. That is, the arts averages were about 10-15% higher than the rest of the school because the requirements were higher. Of course more arts students will get in when the top of their bell curve is placed in a different place than the technical subjects.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (1)

Rifter13 (773076) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923757)

#2 I have normally seen that applied to college professors. I haven't seen it applied as much to lower-level teachers.

#3 That is the key.

#5 Most conservatives I know, would STRONGLY disagree here. Maybe disagree with Evolution, but don't discount ALL science because of that. Especially the ones that are atheists. I would say the fundamentalist nut-jobs fall under your broad stroke, but not main-stream social conservatives.

# 6 You write what you know... With a very limited scope... well, you see what happens.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923391)

Depends on the field.

Historian? Get a few dates/names wrong and you'll look like an idiot but no harm done and you can always correct yourself.
Writer? Its going to look really bad if you can't proofread your own work, but I guess thats what experience is for.
Law? Even though everyone knows the field is more a matter of experience, don't expect to be able to keep up if you can't hack a couple years of cramming in school.
Engineering? I don't want to drive across a bridge built by someone who doesn't know basic metallurgy
Medical field? If you don't know the human anatomy, theres no way in hell you should even be holding a scalpel.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (4, Interesting)

Frohboy (78614) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923447)

The American method of 'learning' is mostly rote learning. This does not help. As Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Really? As a Canadian living in Romania, I have to strongly disagree. The education system here appears to be heavily based on rote learning (much moreso than I saw in Canada or attending American schools in my childhood). The folks I have hired have had excellent imagination, in spite of, not because of, their education (and have generally been the ones who skipped a lot of classes at university and taught themselves the required material).

That said, I previously worked (in Canada) as a physics researcher in a hospital, and we would regularly "joke" about the MDs not being "real doctors" (in contrast to how most people view PhDs), since their main skill appeared to be rote memorization. (See also Richard Feynman's story about his diagram of cat anatomy when he gave a presentation to some med students.) Of couse, as a sibling post says, most medicine comes down to reproducing what is already known (as it should be).

I now look at doctors the way I look at lawyers. To get in, you don't need to be creative (and in fact, you probably shouldn't be, or should suppress it until you've already proven yourself), you just need to know the existing "case law" very very well. Mostly, your job is to identify stuff that has been seen before (taking into account quite a lot of subtle data) and go directly to the most successful known solution. If you want to be imaginative as a doctor, you can go the MD/PhD route (which, in my opinion, makes you a superstar), I suppose, or run the risk of losing your job by doing something no one else has done before (and hence is not "approved").

MD spouse excels at rote learning (1)

ace37 (2302468) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924163)

My wife is a doctor and is extremely sharp; she graduated top of her class (top 15%) in med school.

She can reason and learn concepts very quickly, but I don't know anyone better than her at memorizing, recalling, and implementing volumes of factual data. Her memory is quasi-photographic, and she 'reads' data later on. She literally can recall what we ate for dinner on any random night four months ago--I picked about 4 evenings just to see. She seems to use reasoning skills primarily to sort through massive amounts of data and conceptual knowledge. Kind of like a walking encyclopedia that thoroughly understands and interrelates the concepts.

But she doesn't care to be creative. Honestly, almost not at all. Being a diagnostic doctor (radiology) is a perfect career for such a mind.

The smart and highly creative sorts can thrive in different career fields or choose the MD-PhD route.

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923493)

Rote learning used to be very important. Knowing something could save a lot of time looking things up, which is important when you're a doctor in an emergency room ("it it one leach or two to cure whooping cough?"). And testing knowledge is much easier than testing ability so guess which one got tested. These days finding information quickly is a solved problem so keeping raw information in your head is less important (although that's not an excuse to keep your head empty :)

I'm curious why you are a "former educator"? Seems a pity that someone who appears to have some passion for teaching isn't doing it anymore...

In Australia, teaching is heavily unionised so any attempt to reward teachers who do a better job than others is shouted down, and pay is basically just a function of years of service. The alternative leads easily to the system being gamed but what we're doing now isn't working...

Re:Rote learning is the tragedy we will always fac (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923871)

It should be pointed out, though, that Einstein was a scientist. Not a medical doctor. I want an MD to tell me what is wrong with me based on the symptoms, be correct, and tell me what I need to do. I do not need the MD to come up with an imaginative solution or diagnosis, it should be based purely off of statistics, studies of what worked, and more statistics. While we like to think of ourselves as unique snowflakes, that's our brains, not our bodies. My liver is pretty similar to every other liver out there of the same age.

I don't need much imagination from my doctor, I need him or her to know facts.

What's Your Problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923187)

This is old territory under U.S. copyright law; it is clearly a copyright infringement and there are many cases that say so (it was law school exams, but same thing). Not sure why anyone could say they don't "understand copyright" when the Board takes this position, they have a slam dunk.

Why not an NDA? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923261)

Copyright is a dumb way to protect a test.

A much simpler and easier way would simply be for the AMA to have test takers agree to a very simple NDA. You agree not to share specific questions from this test with anyone. Covers the actual problem, is enforceable, doesn't require twisting copyright law in crazy ways. What's the downside?

Re:Why not an NDA? (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923501)

Oh, you sign one of those, too. But while the specific questions are copyrightable, the underlying facts aren't - they're all in textbooks. Good luck proving anything when it's all handwritten and passed around sub rosa. BTW, the AMA has nothing to do with this. It's the specific board and possibly the ABMS.

Summary fails copyright law (4, Insightful)

MSTCrow5429 (642744) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923267)

If the exam is copyrighted, and as the story states each question is reproduced "verbatim" and then reproduced, that is unquestionably a violation of Federal copyright law. /. needs to avoid publishing nonsense from people who clearly never went to law school.

Mod parent up. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923393)

> /. needs to avoid publishing nonsense...

Half the articles would vanish (and 3/4 of the comments).

Re:Summary fails copyright law (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38924153)

The work needs to be published to be eligible for copyright protection. This exam isn't.

Re:Summary fails copyright law (1)

MSTCrow5429 (642744) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924393)

A work does not need to be published to be protected by copyright in the US. 17 U.S.C. s. 104(a).

FAA testing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923277)

FAA testing is sort of the same. There is a master question bank containing thousands of questions covering pretty much everything there is to know about flying and flying rules. For each test for any particular certification (instructor or commercial, for example), the testing center picks a bunch of questions from the question bank that are applicable to the certificate being pursued.

There are tons of ways to study for this test, and most pilots use more than one method including ground school courses, "cram" courses that rely only on source materials, lengthy video courses that cover pretty much everything in detail, and focused test-based studying which pulls every applicable question from the master question bank. All of these are "legal" ways to study for FAA exams.

Some places even sell printed books with every known question, on the shelf right next to the manuals that have the source info. The idea is that most pilots will become intimately familiar with the rules/regs that apply to the kind of flying they do all the time, and they can cram to learn the other non-applicable stuff just for the test.

Not so sure about their "airplane notes" reasoning (4, Informative)

aklinux (1318095) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923315)

The first 2 times I ran into this, at about the same time, was for FAA & FCC (Federal Aviation Admin., Fed. Comm. Comm.).

You used to have to have at minimum a 2nd Class Radio Telephone license from the FCC to be a broadcaster in radio. You could actually have a 3rd class only to talk if the station had someone else on duty with a 2nd class to actually run the equipment. The stations often didn't want to pay for a 2nd person with the higher level license, so...

For FCC testing back in the 60s & 70s, there used to be outfits that came to cities periodically that would guarantee passage after a weekend course (12 hrs per day) during which you would be taught the answers to the test questions. The way they got the answers is what is talked about here. It had likely been going on for some time already when I found out about, but the 70s is when I was working on my FAA & FCC licensing, so that when I knew about it.

There was the same thing for FAA written tests and I seem to remember hearing that the FAA stuff came first. This may be the actual reason for calling them "Airplane Tests".

Re:Not so sure about their "airplane notes" reason (1)

swonkdog (70409) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923875)

As an update to what you wrote:

At this point the FCC makes freely available all test questions and answers. They have also done away with the oral portions of the exams as well as the morse requirements for every license except radiotelegraph operators. This makes the cram method especially prevalent. Some of the companies that you refer to still exist but now they simply publish the questions and answers with some minor bit of explanations; some also publish practice exam software. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class radiotelephone operator licenses have been done away with and are now replaced by the General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL) which, as I understand it, is the (from a technical knowledge standpoint) equivalent of a 2nd class radiotelephone license. The broadcast endorsement has been done away with and is no longer required for commercial broadcast radio. DJs certainly don't need it though I imagine that getting a job as an engineer with a radio station without a license is probably pretty difficult even if not legally required. Commercial licenses are still required for operation and repair of nautical stations and equipment and for repair (but not operation) of domestic aeronautical stations and equipment.

On the FAA side, they used to publish both question and answer pools like the FCC but came under fire for it a few years back and no longer do this. They do release a few sample questions but the vast majority of the pools are not available so you end up with a situation much like these doctors where people will remember what was on the test and forward the questions and answer options on to prep companies. Some do a really good job of creating a curriculum where the student actually learns the material, others do just like the FCC prep companies and publish books of questions and answers with some bit of explanation. The FAA retains the oral portion so in theory, an applicant who has memorized the written exam could still be caught by an examiner when asked to explain the theory of a given topic. And, obviously, the FAA also retains the practical exam as well. Of course life is not perfect and some students only want to study for (and some instructors are only too happy to teach for) the tests and nothing else.

As background: I took my Extra Class amateur radio license test in 2007 and private pilot tests in 2010. I am currently studying for my GROL and instrument pilot tests.

A more global, widespread issue (4, Informative)

betasam (713798) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923323)

I live in India, and such Notes are very common here for almost every branch of Higher Education. In some cases of post-graduate and doctoral courses, the question papers are legitimately distributed by the University to students after an examination. For tests where the board does not distribute question papers, several companies which claim to be vestigial 'education' and 'training' companies pay examinees for reproducing or recollecting the questions. It is also common practice in India for corporates to hold screening examinations prior to fresh candidate intake. These question papers are also reproduced, solved by a team of experts and a key is published before the next examination. A good example is FreshersWorld [freshersworld.com] .

This also happens for NCERT, Medical Entrance Examinations, Engineering Entrance Examinations among several others. No Legal action has been taken in the recent past to stop such recollection, despite the fact that it merely promotes rote learning, textual recall or fundamental pattern matching. Interestingly, in India, no one has referred to this practice as cheating, although it is. It is only in the past two years that Computer Aided Tests which shuffle questions and stagger timelines are being introduced to avoid this practice. Enforcement of legal sanctions in India especially across Educational boards, Varsities and Corporate Testing groups have not been easy.

Question papers, by themselves for any test are never copyrighted officially. Most Board question papers in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal do not come with any Copyright notices. Boards and Academic members have until recently been in the dark about 'Copyright Law' and have little idea as to how it is enforced. A vast number of books published are not registered for copyright, nor do they have ISBN assigned to them.

Part of the issue is the inability to enforce exclusivity on 'recalled' or 'reproduced' testing material. Another part is ignorance of the full extent of 'Copyright Law' itself, though this is significant in nations like India and China where their implementation has only now begun.

As an RN, I can tell you.... (2)

Immostlyharmless (1311531) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923415)

That nurses do this as well. 30 of us would be standing out in the hallway post test saying things like,

"How did you answer that question about disseminated intravascular coagulation?"
"Ohhhhh".

If there was something of note, one of us would make a note about certain questions where our line of thinking was incorrect to go over later in study group. This sounds more formal than what we did, but I don't think there is really anything different about it aside from the level the MD students take it to, then again, with the level of knowledge required, a couple of notes here and there probably just doesn't cut it.

Before you go nuts... (5, Informative)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923489)

There is a lot of confusion among people who aren't physicians about what, exactly, is meant by "boards" and "board certified". Just remember: medicine is populated entirely by people who are good at tests. They may have other skills, and they may not. But they're all good at taking tests.

When a physician is described as "board-certified", that means that s/he has taken a specialty examination given (in almost all cases) by a member of the American Board of Medical Specialties. In some fields, this only has a written component; in others, especially surgical fields, oral examinations are standard as well as the writtens. These examinations serve to certify that you know that particular specialty. They are not required to practice medicine, and physicians are not limited by law to practice only in areas of medicine for which they have received formal training. Insurers providing coverage and hospitals allowing privileges outside of your area are a different matter, but as a matter of law, a general-practice MD can perform neurosurgery in his office.

A permanent, unrestricted medical license in the US is predicated on passing the US Medical Licensure Examination Steps 1, 2, and 3 (unless you're an osteopath and you take the COMLEX, but that's a small number of people and in any case the principle is very similar). Furthermore, you will have to do at least an internship (the first year of residency after medical school) in order to be granted a permanent, unrestricted medical license. (Graduates of non-US/Canada medical schools may have to do two or even three years of residency.)

So yes, people do get together and discuss things. In particular, memorizing questions serves the purpose of identifying what the question-makers think is important. This is not always trivial; as medical specialties have moved their written examinations onto computers in recent years and K-type (Choose A if 1 and 3 are right, B if 2 and 4 are right, C if 4 only is right, D is 1, 2, and 3 are right, and E if all are incorrect) questions have been eliminated, there has been a significant influx of new questions from younger examiners. Like all examiners, they tend to submit questions from their own interests rather than just covering a broad enough base to be sure that the examinee is capable of practicing safe medicine. The line between pass and fail has to fall somewhere, and if you're academically relatively weak, knowing the likely subject matter (or the likely rare association between two things) can make the difference between pass and fail.

The USMLE 1/2/3 all have prep courses and study books with sample questions, just like the SAT. If you don't study how the questions are asked, you are unlikely to do your best. However, the base of knowledge is just immense - Step 3 considers anything that you might encounter in a general practice to be fair game. To pass the test, you're going to need to know the stuff.

The specialty board examinations don't take anyone who couldn't 1) get a residency in that specialty and 2) pass their way through it (which is not a given - people fail out of residencies all the time). Dermatology, the subject of this article, is populated exclusively by people who gradated in the top 5-10% of their med school class. Their intelligence and drive to study isn't really in question. What's happening is mostly a matter of pride; even though only a vanishingly small percentage of people who take the test will fail, it is incredibly embarrassing to be the one who does.

Re:Before you go nuts... (2)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923695)

Because /. doesn't have edit, I'm having to reply to self:

To be clear: the ABMS specialty board examinations are completely different from the "medical boards" (which is how most laymen refer to USMLE Steps 1/2/3, because those are exactly analogous to the nursing boards, bar exam, CPA exam, etc. - they are a prerequisite for practicing in the field rather than a certification of special further training).

Why exactly is this a problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923537)

Forbidding students the use of old tests seems to be very counterproductive. I am studying physics at a university in Denmark, and here old exam questiens are an integrated part of the teaching. It is a great way to make certain that you have understood the subjekt. Of cause it might make a difference that we have proper written and oral exams where you have explain why and how every step of the way instead of just giving the answer.

The disadvantage is that the teachers have to spend a lot more time making and grading the exam. So if your only goal i to process as many students, as cheaply as possible, a multiple choice exam makes more sense.

Make them swear a blood-oath of secrecy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923623)

Then you can have their firstborn if they breathe a word of the exam o>O

Copyright infringement? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923633)

So it's okay to plagiarize or cheat on exams, as long as there is a BSD or GPL on the crib sheet? Hahaha.

How do I reach these keeds? (-1, Offtopic)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38923713)

"Cheating" on board exams. Great.

Anybody else remember the South Park where Cartman is holding seminars for his fellow classmates on how to best cheat on exams? He puts on the cardigan sweater and combover and glasses of the Edward James Olmos character in that movie with Lou Diamond Phillips (I guess you had to have three names to be in the movie). Stand and Deliver was the name, and the Lou Diamond Philips character, Angel, doesn't think he needs to learn "cal ku loos". I seem to recall several movies of that era where the solution to the education catastrophe in poor minority schools is nothing more than a teacher who trades his personal life for a dreary existence trying to reach out to hoodlums and pregnant 15 year olds while carrying a baseball bat and acting all self-righteous.

That friggin movie was from like the mid-80s and the South Park was from decades later so like none of the young viewers got any bit of the obscure Stand and Deliver reference and that's when I decided that the South Park guys were OK in my book because anyone who would reach for that obscure of a reference for such a small payback just to make the four people in the audience who remembered that stupid movie get a laugh has a dedication that I admire. I like when an artist or in this case, artists, decide that making themselves laugh is just as important as making the audience laugh because, hell, life is too short not to.

Anyway, that's got nothing to do with this story (at least I don't think so because I only read the title. And the whole medical-industrial complex has become a big money hunt, and precious few of the people who go into medicine or publish text books or make drugs give one shit about helping people. Fuck alla them.) My approach to health care is to not get sick. I've had great, expensive insurance for like twenty-five years and never used it so about 15% of my gross earnings over the course of my career have gone into dividend checks for insurance company shareholders and they STILL deny people who are really sick, which is why we need universal health care where nuns are forced to get abortions. The only medical care I ever need is getting my teeth cleaned, which I do often because the dental hygienist has like this really nice rack and she presses those beauties right up against my head. She gives me the nitrous because she wants her clients happy and she smells so nice. Plus, I've got to keep my teeth clean because I play the chromatic harmonica. So anyway, I give a shit if this is off-topic because one of you will remember that old South Park episode and go, "yeah, that was good. Cartman with the "How do I reach these keeds?" and get a little chuckle and there are precious few chuckles in this world so we have to treat each one like gold. So go ahead, mod me down. My Karma is eternal, anyway. Nothing you can do could possibly affect it.

Anybody else want a refill? This kind of self-indulgence is thirsty work.

What about the fake boards? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38923755)

The real dirt is this: there are now "Board certifications" which don't even require a doctor to have down a full multiyear residency training program. The "Consumer" (oops, I mean patient) can't tell the difference because the diplomas all look snazzy

Cheating on Board Cert (2)

virb67 (1771270) | more than 2 years ago | (#38924319)

Any doctor or potential doctor caught cheating on their board certs, or caught aiding another cheating on their board certs, should be barred from serving as a medical doctor for the entirety of their lives.
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