Yes that is much easier said than done. But try not to because it will hamper your preparation. And remember that everyone prepares in different ways and everyone is ready at different times. You might be sitting your CSA on the same day as one of your colleagues and be stressing about the fact that they’re so much better prepared than you are. However, does it really matter? As long as you are ready by the day of the CSA it doesn’t matter if you’ve been ready one month, one week or one day before it. Yes we may feel more confident if we have been ready for a month but the flip side to this argument is that you could just have a really bad exam day and struggle. You wont though because you’re going to consult like you do every day, and you’re going to be great! That is rule one – believe in yourself. If you are doing the day job well (I would hope your trainer has talked to you if you aren’t) then it should be just fine.
How can you prepare for the CSA other than do your day to day consultations? There are many ways:
Role play with your trainer, your fellow trainees and even your family.
Video your consultations and show then to your trainers. Watch them yourself too.
Don’t forget your clinical knowledge – make sure you know your red flags, your guidelines, your management plans.
You can create opportunities every day to incorporate these forms of preparation. Set rules for feedback – you don’t want your confidence to be knocked by lots of negative feedback, but continually sharing only positive feedback, or saying ‘it was fine’ isn’t going to help you get better. My trainees’ might describe me a bit tough and honest where feedback is concerned. Here’s my thinking – I’m going to tell you if it was fine and you might manage a pass. But I’m going to be a bit fussy and excessive too. Why? Because my principle is that when you are preparing you should be aiming for that ‘perfect’ consultation. You know – the one where it all comes together and you send the patient away with an amazing plan! For what reason am I doing this, rather than just making sure you can pass each consultation? For two reasons – the first is that I want my trainee to be a great GP, and I want their patients to see just how good they are. The second is more CSA focussed. There are very few of us who do not suffer from some degree of nerves when we are faced with a pressurised situation. The CSA is just that – it’s the last big hurdle in our training, it’s really expensive so we don’t want to pay for it a second time, it’s a foreign environment (to most of us) and we know that people can fail it. What happens when we are nervous? We are potentially not on our top form. So lets aim for perfection when preparing so that when the nerves hit we perhaps drop a little but not below the pass/fail threshold. So whoever you’re preparing with – ask them to judge you to perfection.
If you’re role playing a patient for a colleague then make it a bit tricky every now and again. Put your peers under a bit of pressure. Again it makes facing the CSA that little easier. From experience I really didn’t find there was a patient there to trip me up, and no one was really terrible to me! But if your colleagues have been a bit tough on you here and there then you won’t be phased if you have a consultation that’s a bit trickier, and most of the consultations will feel like a breeze compared to the practice you’ve been doing.
It may seem a bit odd to suggest practicing with your non-medical family and friends. But it can be really helpful. I recall practicing telephone consultations with my sister who lives 100 miles away. I gave her a rough brief on a topic she might have some idea of what kind of symptoms to have – thyroid, an ill child, etc. Then we would undertake the consultation in ten minutes, and I’d see how she felt it went. Non-medics are also great for practicing your explanations and planning with. However good at role playing you are it is always hard to put your medical knowledge out of your mind. So the explanation might seem fine to a fellow medic, but not so clear to someone with no prior knowledge. So try explaining CKD3 to your partner, or the two week wait to your friend. Genetics is a really good topic to role play with someone non-medical, because you will soon see that you can’t drop into a full description of mendelian inheritance in a ten minute consultation – you have to keep it simple and concise.
Don’t let your theoretical knowledge slip away. This is a really good reason for getting tied up in knots in the exam. When observing, I can tell when someone is starting to question their plan because they can’t quite remember what the guidelines suggest, or they don’t recall the cut off values for this and that. The consultation then just slowly falls apart because the trainee isn’t confident in what they are doing, and they are running out of time to complete the consultation. So know your stuff. The consultation skills get you a long way, but to go the whole way you need to back it up with knowledge.
Be yourself. I remember watching some videos back when I was about 4 months away from the CSA and cringing. I realised that I was consulting completely differently to normal in a bid to undertake the perfect consultation structure. The consultations went terribly and didn’t reflect my usual practice. Once this was highlighted to me I took a step back and started trying to improve my consultation structure rather than start from scratch. You need to be yourself otherwise it will awkward for you, the patient and the examiner. The use of stock phrases just doesn’t work. If this phrase is new to you and doesn’t fit your style or personality then it wont work with the effect it is hoped to. But, by all means take feedback on board and try out new techniques or phrases. Just don’t do it all at the same time! I do advocate being conscious of any words or things you do that you might want to work hard to wipe out of your consultations. Apparently my phrase was ‘I think’. I’m pretty sure I have erased this from my consultations but I know that I use phrase too much in day to day life because my toddler went through a phrase of adding ‘I think’ to the end of most sentences! So just be cautious of repeated words and phrases you use, or those that might make an examiner or patient (who does not know you and will have one encounter with you) think that you are not confident in what you are saying or doing.
I really hope this post has given you some pointers as to how to approach CSA preparation. There really isn’t a one size fits all preparation guide because we all learn differently. If I can answer any questions then please get in touch.