The primary exam does not define you

Over the next few days, we will be offering heartfelt congratulations to those who pass the exam and conversely, sincere commiserations to those of you who don’t.

Regardless of whether you pass or fail the exam, this exam will not define you. It is a means of ensuring that all future anaesthetists have reached a required depth of knowledge in the sciences underpinning our specialty – that is all.

Passing or failing is no reflection on your worthiness (for better or worse) as an individual, although it may not seem that way at the time, especially for those of you who fail. Those around you will feel happy or sad for you, depending on your result, but their underlying respect and love for you and compassion towards you will be unchanged. You will be intrinsically the same person in a week that you are today – the same doctor, colleague, partner, friend, parent.

Be kind to yourselves.

Having said that this exam won’t define you, let it shape you. How can you use this experience to improve yourself? When I was studying, one of the best and most generous teachers I had was a senior registrar who had sat the primary exam 8 times before passing! He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the material and a compassionate heart. He knew better than most how gruelling the exam could be. We are not used to struggling academically and, even less so to failing. But we are fortunate.

Sometimes, when faced with a significant setback, it can be hard to look forward. If you find yourself in this situation, or are worried about a friend, please seek help. Talk to a friend, someone at work or your GP. Two other options which are also always available are:

Doctors’ health advisory service


You are worth so much more than this exam – do not let it define you!!

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