Waikato Hospital as seen over lake Rotoroa

This page answers some of your frequently-asked questions.

Just about everything you reasonably want to know can already be found on this website, but there are other questions which crop up from time to time.

Q: You only offer 20 places. Why not increase this number so that more people can attend?

This is a fair question, and one we have looked at from time to time. Where a course is just a series of lectures, you can increase the number of attendees without much trouble. However, our course is highly interactive, and we try to give each candidate the benefit of focussed examination practice. The more candidates we have, the more this dilutes the value that everyone receives. We have tried running the course with 22, and it’s a real squeeze.

(1) Viva practice. We take our 20 candidates and split them into 4 groups of 5 for viva practice. Each group gets a 90-minute session per day with two “examiners”. That takes 4 examiners per day out of our roster. In addition, squeezing in an extra candidate makes the amount of viva time per candidate drop sharply.

(2) Short answers. Each day we expect the candidates to do four SAQs in exam conditions. That means 80 answer scripts need to be marked each day. We do this marking in addition to running the course, organising lectures, ensuring vivas run to time, and so on. Adding more candidates means adding more scripts to that very large pile. But if that sounds like a lot of marking, it really isn’t, compared to…

(3) The SAQ practice. We run a full mock SAQ exam in Week 1. This generates 15 scripts per candidate, making about 300 scripts in all. The full stack is several cm high. We have an examiners’ meeting over beer and curry on the night after the exam, and we mark them all. That’s an almighty marathon of work for us to do, in our spare time, for no payment except a bit of curry.

(4) Department resources. Our department is quite large, but nevertheless, the Part 1 Course places considerable demand on our roster. Often several trainees attend the course, depleting the trainee pool. Each day, there are two coordinators (often James and me), plus the lecturers, plus 4 viva examiners, plus someone giving small group teaching. That could be 8 SMOs depleted from the SMO roster. As a department, we recognise the value of the course to anaesthetic education and training, which is why we wear that demand. But running extra viva practice (say), or adding more places to the course, just isn’t possible.

So hopefully you can see why it isn’t feasible to just expand the course.

Q: Why don’t you run the course twice a year?

See above. The drain on our departmental resources is considerable, and it also involves the course organisers in an enormous amount of work in our own time. Once a year is all we can manage, but there are other courses out there to help you through the other sitting of the exam.

Q: If I send you emails in advance, can I get in ahead of the crowd and ensure my place on the course?

No. The course is already very over-subscribed, with more than two applicants per place. We think that the fairest method is to cast the net as wide as possible, accept as many applications as possible, and then to randomly select from this pool of applicants. (We expressly give priority to Midland NZ trainees).

We have previously considered (and indeed applied) other selection methods, and we look critically at this method every year to see if it’s still workable. No selection method is perfect; whichever way we do it, some people will get in, and others won’t. The best we can hope for is fairness and transparency, which we think we achieve.

Q: I applied for the course but I didn’t get a place. This is my last chance to pass the exam. Is there any way you can squeeze me in somehow?

No. I am always very sorry for those people who get turned away, but our resources are finite, and there is nothing we can do. You will get a place on our waiting list, and if you are near the top, you are still in with a chance of a place, since each year 1 or 2 candidates with a place withdraw from the course before it starts. The best I can suggest is that you apply to another course, or use the resources of your own department to prepare for the exam. Caroline Whymark’s book offers very sensible advice and tips.

One final thing, though. Our course doesn’t get you through the exam. We can motivate you and polish you, but what gets you through the exam is your own effort.