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I completed my medical school and background EM training from India (Christian Medical College, Vellore and Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad) where I worked for 4 years. Following this, I devoted (with all my heart) about 1.5 years to do US Medical Licensing Exams. My stint towards an EM Residency in States did not work but it took me to places and it has been quite a journey. I then relocated to London, England to work as a Registrar (Non-Trainee) in A&E. This gave me an opportunity to better understand NHS, EM training pathways and more importantly the EM Mindsets in the United Kingdom. 

Currently, I am pursuing Higher Specialist Training in Emergency Medicine at South East Scotland Deanery where I have the honour and privilege of training under some of the most innovative brains in the field of Emergency Medicine. Over the past few years, I have realised that LEARNING and UNLEARNING (which can be challenging!) is equally important to deliver cutting edge care to our patients.And through this blog, I aspire to disseminate knowledge, assist trainees with exams and stay up to date with contemporary EM literature. I have always been an avid FOAMed supporter because FOAMed has always played an indispensable role during my training. 

Lakshay Chanana
ST4 EM Trainee 
Edinburgh, Scotland

Monday, October 16, 2017

Don't be critical about "FRCEM Critical Appraisal"

The September 2017 diet FRCEM critical appraisal results were released last week and passing rates remained close to 60%. I took this exam in September diet along with some of my other colleagues. 

While preparing for this exam, we often used to ponder - Why are we doing this? But as our preparation went on, we realized that “Critical Appraisal” is one of the most essential aspects of modern day medicine. As exam-going candidates, like everyone else we had a lot of doubts and concerns about the pattern, how to start preparation and we found that there is a ton of stuff on MRCEM Part A, B and C prep but there was not much about FRCEM Final set of exams. 

I am going to address few BIG questions regarding FRCEM Critical Appraisal here:

Can we take this exam from India?
To my knowledge, I am not aware of anyone who appeared for this exam while working as an ED doctor in India. However, I think this should NOT be a problem and it is quite possible to crack this. The issue is lack of good mentorship, someone who can guide you through the process. At this point, I know only two practicing physicians in India who have been through the FRCEM series of exams. The exam itself is pretty much a revision of your third year medical school statistics and epidemiology (no rocket science!). You don’t need to be an expert in statistics but should be able to understand the very basics and know what the numbers mean to a clinician.

Cost will be another issue; the exam fee is approximately 25,000 INR, which is a hefty amount for an EM resident in India. If I include the cost of travel and stay, the exam will cost you at least 100,000 INR (including tickets and accommodation). Add another 100,000 INR if you want to attend a exam prep course.

Bottom-line – If you are lucky enough to have a mentor, then taking FRCEM Critical Appraisal is quite possible from any country (not only India) provided you are financially strong.

Do we need to attend a pre-exam preparatory course?
Well, my standard answer is - most of us do end up going to a prep course due to peer pressure. But if you are going to a course, make sure you read about the basics first. Trust me, it makes an immense amount of difference and the course itself works like a revision for you. Also, it is much easier to grasp the "statistics terminologies" if you have already read it once or twice. Otherwise, going to a prep course is a waste of time and money. My recommendation is "Read the basics and then go to the course to clarify things that you did not understand". 

If you end up attending a course without any sort of pre-course reading, then you will be bombarded with information overload. 

Bottom-line: If you are motivated enough, I assure you that you can easily pass this exam with the below mentioned resources and without attending any prep course. 

Exam Pattern
The exam lasts for 90 minutes and you get one paper (Diagnostic or Therapeutic, rarely Meta analysis) to critically appraise. You are expected to write your answers in the space provided (gauge the length of your answer as per the size of the box). The exam comprises of a total of 6-8 questions. There are some standard questions like "writing a summary of the paper" and "strengths and limitations" of the study. These are pretty standard and it is easy to fetch marks on them. 

Bottom-line - Enough practise and time management is the key. 

How we prepared?
We started preparation about a month prior to the exam. Despite understanding the concepts, most of us found it challenging to jot down things on paper. For instance, we knew what "p value" signifies but we could not define it. I recommend reading the "glossary section" everyday for 1-2 weeks. This will make the exact definitions stick to your mind. Glossary also includes all the equations to calculate Sensitivity, Specificity, PPV, NPV, PLR, NLR etc. Glossary is high yield. 

We read about 1-2 papers everyday starting 10 days prior to the exam, each one within a span of 90 minutes. 

On the day of exam?
As always, don’t try to do a lot on the day of exam. If you are very keen, then once again – go through the glossary, which should take <1 hour at this point. Just sit back and relax. You have done your bit in the last month and outcome depends entirely on that, not on the last minute preparation. Stay calm and remember, this is just another exam and not the end of your life! Sooner (hopefully) or later, you will get through this. 

Resources for exam preparation
Critical Appraisal for FCEM - This book is designed for FRCEM critical appraisal (as the name suggests) and focuses on key aspects that you need to understand to critically appraise a paper from an examination standpoint. It is designed for A&E doctors by A&E doctors. You also get a couple of practice papers at the end and glossary of all the important definitions, which are very likely to be asked in the exam. Highly Highly recommended. 

Rahul Patwari's Youtube videos – Even if you are not taking the exam, I insist spending some time with these videos. You will mature as a clinician during this process. In these videos, Rahul takes us through the very basics of evidence-based medicine and explains how to bring that evidence to the bedside. Every practicing physician, not only A&E doctors, must see these videos. The concepts are presented in a very simple and easy to understand way enough for a 10 year old to comprehend. Reading statistics comes with a mental barrier for most of us, as this stuff can be hard to grasp. I often felt like a dyslexic as I could not decipher what the text means, but these videos came with a solution.

Recommended Playlists on the youtube channel:

  • Basics of Clinical Reasoning
  • Probability and Odds
  • Hypothesis Testing
  • Sampling
  • Distribution of Sample Means
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Incidence and Prevalence 
  • EBM - Introduction
  • EBM - Evaluating articles on Diagnosis
  • EBM - Evaluating articles on Treatment 

Sketchy EBM - Once again, a picture is worth a thousand words. Concepts that are difficult to understand are explained very well here. 

SGEM: One of the best blogs/podcast on Evidence Based Medicine. This will ensure that you get into that mindset and be comfortable with the terminologies that are used while interpreting evidence. REBELEM and COREEM are other options.

USMLE Step 1 Statistics – The concepts remain same across the world, whether it is UK, USA or India. If you have the time and patience, then check out these videos by Steven Daugherty. These videos give you a slightly more in depth review of Epidemiology and Statistics and are worth watching but not mandatory.

In hindsight, I feel that Rahul Patwari's and Sketchy EBM videos are a good place to begin rather than reading a textbook. Following this, go through the Critical Appraisal for FCEM.  If needed, review the videos again. One needs to read the textbook at least a couple of time because the content is quite volatile. I think 1-2 months are more than enough to prepare for the exam. Once you have gone through the videos and text, do several papers and simulate exam like conditions (write with a pencil, write legibly and within the box, finish under 90 minutes).

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any further questions regarding the exam.

Further Reading:

Posted by:

     Lakshay Chanana
     Speciality Doctor
     Northwick Park Hospital
     Department of Emergency Medicine


1 comment:

  1. Great review -

    Few IELTS skills might come in handy as well

    1. Using 'research terminolgy' throughout your answers is extremely important

    2. Sticking to the pattern - Ex: Summary is to be written in a specific format but is very easy once you know the headings.

    3. Time management - Applies to most of the exams but more relatable to IELTS because you need to read a long paper completely before you start answering questions.

    4. Finding answers from the paper - Have a quick glance on the questions before going tgrough the paper and highlight imp points will help a lot once you start penning the answers down.