All posts by DrVida

EPIC Bootcamp in the time of COVID

Yes, it was epic. The annual ASA exam preparation weekend had a substantial re-work to accommodate a new exam format for those candidates who sat the written section in March (and who will not have medical vivas with patients) and a new boot camp format via Zoom.

Hollywood in the Home: with co-host Kym Buckley, Examiners Dr Nicola Meares, Dr Sally Wharton and Dr Steve Davies

The registrants were surveyed prior to the weekend to find out about their expectations, special requests and exam cohort. There was an approximately 50:50 split between those from 2020-1 and those preparing for 2020-2 and beyond, together with a number of International Medical Graduate Specialists.

Convenor Vida Viliunas, ASA office superhero Kym Buckley, Co-host Dr Rod Katz, delegate Dr Leonie Roberts


Many hours were dedicated to the question of how to engage a group of close to 90 people via Zoom. Ultimately, the obvious choice was to create ‘Hollywood in the Home’. This allowed a combination of TED-talk style and screen-shared presentations. As always with Zoom, pants were optional but candidates were asked to try out the rest of their exam wardrobes on-screen.

An extended ‘arrival window’ at the beginning of each day was an opportunity to chat and meet individual participants and gave the weekend a personal feel. Candidates were encouraged to commit to the weekend as if they were in a lecture – without distractions or phones, and with Zoom cameras and exam-brains on.


Thank you to the examiners who participated in the exam panel. They answered candidate questions and provided commentary on the ingredients of good and great exam performances. Dr Steve Davies, Dr Nicola Meares, Dr Carmel McInerney, Dr Prani Shrivastava and Dr Sally Wharton volunteered their time, experience and knowledge of what appeals to examiners and what garners extra marks.

Sunday morning with the Final Exam Chair Dr Sharon Tivey was another opportunity to clarify the exam process for candidates. All participants gained insights into the diabolically difficult jobs of conducting exams, training, and studying during a pandemic.

The weekend would not have been possible without my co-hosts Dr Rod Katz and ASA office super-hero Kym Buckley. They co-ordinated chat responses, answered private questions and ensured the smooth running of the production.


Each exam section (MCQs, SAQs and Vivas) was addressed and ingredients for success outlined.

For multiple choice questions the tips were mainly straightforward. Since there is no negative marking, each question should be answered. Strict timing is important to allow review of all responses.

The short answer questions are a test of knowledge, reasoning and communication skills. This is a demanding section for which strict timing is essential and a construct is helpful. Writing less, writing legibly with all abbreviations explained was stressed. Practicing questions to time and having responses assessed is key.

Every year, examiner reports repeat the importance of answering the question asked. Techniques to ensure that the precise questions are answered were discussed.

Viva deconstruction, viva creation, practicing in sections, role-playing
as examiners and video review were suggested techniques to improve viva performance.

It is important to systematically interpret investigations (for the exam as well as professional life). This demonstrates understanding and competence.

The examiners stressed that the entire curriculum was examinable in all sections of the exam including the vivas.

How to manage ‘viva-brain’: what to do and what not to do when a candidate is faltering or uncertain were part of recovery techniques discussed.


Most examiners are active clinicians. Candidates should not make the mistake of thinking that time spent in operating theatres and other clinical activities is not useful exam preparation.

The value of a range of techniques including individual and group study,
a study plan that covers the entire curriculum and practicing past questions under exam conditions was stressed as an important part of exam success.


Details of EPIC participants were shared after the weekend. This is intended to help candidates in things such as forming study groups and developing and sharing practice questions. One of the points that was made through the weekend was that there is a real benefit to collaborating and no real downside. The exams are intended to test judgement and knowledge and

not designed to rank candidates. A higher success rate reflects well on candidates, examiners and teachers. Collaboration and working together will also be of benefit through post-exam professional life.


Artificial intelligence expert Patrick Winston of MIT created an excellent lecture series on how to speak

Professor Winston’s suggestion of an empowering promise was embedded in the plan for our weekend. All candidates were promised extra marks if they engaged and concentrated during the two days. Candidates listed what they learned that would most help them to earn those extra marks in the chat at the end of each day. That summary of what was meaningful to candidates also informed the lecture series for the future. However, we all agreed that we will never do it again… until next year.

Final Exam trends

EPIC bootcamp registrants are turning their minds to preparing for their vivas and the second sitting of the final exams.

Bootcamp is coming up on 13 +14 June 20220. register here!

The final exam statistics are published for each exam report. Here are some graphical representations.

The SAQ section stands out (in green)
There is very little difference for the results for the first cf the second sitting

EPIC BOOTCAMP in the time of COVID-19

We have a leadership role

These are extraordinary times. We will all serve to the extent that we are willing and able. Anaesthesia trainees and anaesthetists play important leadership roles in systems administration, surgery, resuscitation and critical care on ordinary days. During a pandemic, these roles will be crucial. Remember to stick to the facts, know the evidence (where that exists) and remain calm and caring.

…exam preparation – really?!

It’s up to you.

No-one knows how this situation will evolve nationally or regionally in the next weeks or months. When the exams will resume and in what format is to be determined. No-one intends to add to the misery of the unknown, but that is what we are dealing with at the moment. So why not take advantage of the time to keep up with your study.

Virtual tutorials and viva practice can serve as a forum for senior registrars to keep in contact and share their views. Continuing with a study program can normalise a part of our lives that is otherwise uncertain. It’s a bonus in extended study time for those candidates who elected to sit the first sitting in 2020!

So…EPIC BOOTCAMP IS ON! June 13 + 14, 2020

Bootcamp will be held via zoom. No current registrants have withdrawn (in response to my offer to refund rego fees) and trainees are still applying – so we’re on.

The format of the weekend will include

  • exam myth-busting by past examiners
  • a walk-through of each section of the exam
  • SAQ constructs
  • medical viva session (depending on the group)
  • anaesthesia vivas
  • investigations.

Register here

See you at the EPIC Bootcamp!


I did voluntary work with Mercy Ships for three weeks in February. This was just prior to recognition of COVID19 as a global pandemic and consequent lockdowns. 
The Africa Mercy was docked in the port of Dakar, Senegal in West Africa in September 2019 and was due to complete its mission there in May 2020. The port in Dakar is very calm and working on the ship is like working in a regular land-based hospital with no sensation of movement or disruption.
During my 3 week stay I provided anaesthesia for plastic surgery, facio-maxillary surgery and removal of thyroid tumours. 
As a senior anaesthetist, I only occasionally have to do homework for a list. On Africa Mercy I spent most evenings researching topics such as anaesthesia for ameloblastoma, fibrous dysplasia and working out how to block limbs distorted by burns and contractures.
If you are interested in more information on volunteering, the Australian Anaesthetist March 2020 issue is devoted to volunteering. While I was on Africa Mercy I worked with Mark Shrime, an ENT surgeon and an author of the Lancet Commission’s Report  “Global Surgery 2030: evidence and solutions for achieving health, welfare and economic development”. The Lancet Vol 386 Aug 8, 2015 – it’s a great read for anyone considering volunteering. He delivered a fascinating lecture on board analysing the impact of the Africa Mercy and the provision of surgery and anaesthesia.
I was motivated to work on the Africa Mercy to support Dr AJ Collins, one of the surgeons I work with regularly who also regularly serves on Africa Mercy. It also provided an opportunity to learn about different patterns of disease and injury to those we typically encounter in Australia. Both the different sorts of cases and the on board working environment encourage flexible thinking and an appreciation for the need to adapt systems to the situation.  These abilities are important as we face new challenges with the spread of COVID19.
The Mercy ship is a surgical service provider and aims to provide relief of suffering and tangible hope for its patients. It is also involved in capacity building. Mentoring local anaesthetists and surgeons was another activity for doctors on the ship.

The lessons learned during my recent time on the Mercy ship about conserving resources and being kind to one another have been very useful in this ramp-up to Covid-19 in Australia. The entire world is now potentially a low-resource setting as we scramble for equipment and supplies during this pandemic.


The weekend previously known as Bootcamp – now revised and improved.

June 13 + 14, 2020 – REGISTRATION NOW OPEN

  • Program updated and revised (but as before, aimed at exam performance rather than content)
  • Fee reduced compared with last year
  • Linked to ASA trainee membership (as previously)
  • Still in Canberra but using the Auditorium of the ANU medical school on the campus of The Canberra Hospital in Garran (google maps url on rego page)
  • Register HERE!

Please register and/or pass this information on to anyone who might be interested in improving their exam performance.

Best wishes to you for your exam preparation and performance.



SAVE THE DATE: June 13 + 14, 2020



– Current exam panel members will be present to respond to candidate questions

– all exam sections will be addressed: MCQ and SAQ technique (how to study for these sections and how to maximise performance – what will make a good answer better?); Medical viva structure; Anaesthesia viva performance improvement. 

Please pass on this information to all interested candidates.


Please email me so I can gauge the audience numbers + organise a venue.


Likely to be in Barton in the ACT.

Many thanks + have a studious day

ASA Practice Managers’ course Canberra

Psychiatrist Professor Cathy Owen with tips on the psychology (?Psychopathology) in the workplace

The ASA Practice Managers Conference is a full day of educational lectures targeted at Practice Managers in the medical industry.

It is an interactive day that covers professional and continuing medical education issues. Topics included: an update from our Economic Advisory Committee Chair ASA Services – how the ASA can help practice managers, the emergence of the business manager, Australian Privacy Principles, challenges facing Practice Managers, Private Health Insurance and more… 

It was a very successful day – see you all next year!

IMGS Boot camp Werribee

Victorian anaesthetist Dr Abhay Umranikar and colleagues hosted an excellent exam preparation bootcamp for International Medical Graduate Specialists at Werribee Mercy Hospital on 10 August.

The workshop was supported by Terri from the “learning precinct” at Werribee hospital and by regional anaesthetists there.

For many international specialists, it was their first credible encounter with the expectations and pace of viva exams. Current and past examiners explained the exam process, identified the best resources for exam preparation and gave real-time viva feedback to candidates.

It was unfortunate that the workshop could not be advertised to more IMGSs around the country.

The response from delegates was overwhelmingly positive. It looks like we’ll have to do something again for IMGSs!