Rear view neck of acupuncturists doll isolated on blackThe interns seem to have arrived at THAT time of clinic. And I’m not talking about “senioritis.” I’m talking about that moment when the big hurdles of clinic have been conquered and the reality of life after clinic and school suddenly comes into focus. And what does that reality look like? BIG, SCARY BOARD EXAMS.

I don’t know exactly why it happens around this time. They’ve established a routine in clinic and seminar.  Their first acupuncture patients are now ensconced in their care, referrals are coming in, they’ve begun treating new patients in the herb clinic.  And yes, there’s still the final point location exam and the herbal studies final to contend with, but both are still months away. They should be able to relax into the routine.  But each year, when the interns are just over the halfway point, someone rings the board exam alarm bell and the early nerves set in.

To be clear, many of the interns have completely relaxed into the flow of the clinical year. And no matter what they may be feeling internally, they’ve been trained to leave their anxieties at the clinic room door and focus on their patients’ needs. But on the academic side, we start to get peppered with questions about when they can take exams, how to study, and how other classes have fared. They’re already looking ahead to the next hurdle, sometimes forgetting that to be in the present moment is the best preparation for those exams. The more they learn from their patients and their teachers now, the better they’ll do.

Staying in the present moment is, of course, easier said than done. So I would like to sprinkle some good news into this mix of preparation and worry for the intern class, as well as for those prospective students who are already thinking that far ahead. I’ve written about the technical aspects of the NCCAOM exams before. For information on the exams themselves and how the Academy’s program prepares its students, please read Passing the NCCAOM Exams  for some helpful suggestions and answers to the basic questions. The information there is still extremely current and relevant.

In the meantime, there is some additional information that I want to pass along to bolster everyone’s confidence. We get regular word from our graduates that they are passing their exams and getting licensed. It seems lately like each week brings another email about a recent graduate’s success story (the emails are usually filled with lots of exclamation points. I can practically see them jumping up and down). We’re very proud of all of them, and it tells the administration that our students are well-prepared once they graduate. I’ve heard so many prospective students tell me that the TCM schools they have visited tell them not to go to a Five Element school because we can’t prepare them to pass their national exams. I would like to officially negate that statement here. It’s simply untrue. If Five Element acupuncture is calling you, don’t let fear of an exam stand in your way. You will be ready.

I say this as a reminder to our current intern class as well. I know you don’t always feel like you know “enough.” But your patients are getting better. That isn’t luck, that’s YOU and your ability. Remember that your patients are your guides, and working with them in clinic is real knowledge. They are helping to prepare you for your exams, and for your practice after graduation. So when you start getting nervous or overwhelmed I encourage you to talk to your friends from the classes before you. They’ve either already navigated the process successfully, or are in the midst of it. While they are a huge source of information, they’re also a huge source of comfort. Remember the community that you are a part of. Remember that they are there for you when you need them.

I’m not saying that these exams are easy, or that everyone will breeze through them. You’re not supposed to. My point is that they’re not the insurmountable obstacle that they sometimes appear to be. The success of your upperclassmen is proof enough of that. So take your time, focus on what’s in front of you. There will be plenty of time for exam nerves AFTER you graduate.