Sitting FFICM with 2 children

Published 21/04/2022
Dr Hannah Potter
Single speciality ICM trainee

Hannah is in the final weeks of training as a single speciality ICM trainee in Thames Valley region. She is a trainee member of the FICM Women in Intensive Care Committee. LTFT working mum of two small children. 

Twitter: @hannahpottericm

Sitting FFICM with 2 children

In 2018 I came up with a cunning plan, I was heavily pregnant with my second child and I was in the middle of stage 2 training. If I were to take the full maternity leave, then I could stretch it out to the January sitting of the FFICM MCQ. This would allow me time to revise at the end of maternity leave, but it might be a challenging return to work; back to work with two kids, a commute and sitting the fellowship exams. I like a plan, my ES approved, so this is what I did.

I started revising during nap time at the beginning, 3-4 months before the MCQ’s so that it didn’t impact on my time at home with my son, time that I was never going to have again so I needed to balance it carefully. As the exam got closer, I booked him into nursery for a half day twice a week, then a full day. Finally in the two weeks before my return to work he went for the full 4 days we was going to when I returned to work. This was expensive, but in my planning I had saved for it. This gave me a large chunk of time to revise, which I wouldn’t have had if working but it prevented it impacting on my children in the evenings.

My plan worked perfectly, I passed the MCQ, and I had returned to work very comfortably. Now I just needed to sit the SOE/OSCE. This was a daunting task, I was terrified of these exams, having come from a medical background, PACES was the closest I have come to a clinical exam in years. But again, I planned carefully. I was now working 60% LTFT, commuting a long way and had two toddlers but fortunately I also had an incredibly supportive husband.

We agreed that I would focus on the clinical exam for 6 weeks (with a week off(ish) for skiing in the middle- we all need some down time!), any longer and I don’t think it would have been sustainable. My children still needed me, so I tried to work as little as possible during the weekend days. I had terrible guilt about this and felt I was missing good revision opportunities, but this was the compromise for my family.

I had two brilliant and enthusiastic exam buddies, who were ready on the end of a zoom call once all our kids were in bed, 1-2 hours practice every night. Practice for the SOE/OSCE has to be in spoken form, this for me had the added bonus of really improving my post-natal word finding difficulty! My training programme arranged some sessions (resus, radiology and SOE practice) and my unit kindly allowed me to leave my shifts to attend them. I drove to Manchester in a blizzard, when down to London for the college course and attended my local Oxford course. These courses were a real turning point for me, they built my knowledge, stamina, and confidence.

I stayed over in London the night before, which allowed me to be sheltered from the knowledge that my youngest had been sent home from nursery poorly. I had a quiet meal, early night and felt fresh and ready for the long day ahead. The day went as well as I could have hoped and 48, stressful, hours later, I was overjoyed to have passed.

Here a few hints and tips for getting through the exams with kids:

How can you revise with a small children?

The things that worked for me:

  • My son went to nursery for one and a half days per week for the last two months. This was my revision time, so I was able to limit the amount I did during the times they were at home
  • Zoom practice: It saves time travelling across the deanery and it makes the session a bit more focused
  • I booked onto every course I could- I went to Manchester, London and Oxford. These were the most valuable experiences for me; continuous practice, watching other people, lots and lots of good practice questions. They really built up my confidence and I started to believe I could pass.
What have I learnt?
  • You have a disadvantage compared to some of your colleagues, many but not all, are able to free themselves of any responsibilities and focus solely on the exam. This is not you, don’t focus on it and don’t beat yourself up when your progress feels slower- you will get there
  • Your children, especially if small like mine, will NOT remember any of this. I cannot stress this point enough. Two years on, mine do not remember that I was a bit shouty and a bit absent or on a zoom call at bedtime for a couple of months before the exam.
What are tour tips for revising with children?
  • Look after yourself, this may be one of the hardest times in your work/home life, it doesn’t last forever. Try to eat, sleep and rest when you can
  • Plan carefully. There is never a ‘good’ time to sit the exam with a small family and a busy oncall rota but try and plan to where you see it fitting best. Talk to your ES or TPD who can help
  • Returning from maternity leave having been studying for an exam makes the transition back to work at lot smoother, your brain feels much more engaged
  • Have the support of your unit, you need time to revise and practice whilst at work and it helps a lot if they support you in this
  • Childcare: take up every offer, use every favour, if you can afford it book nursery/childminder. The first sitting is your best change, throw everything you have at it
  • Go on every course you can get a place on. Stay over if you can, have a good night’s sleep and an uninterrupted day of practice.
  • Book the college course before you have passed the MCQ- have faith in yourself and secure a space!

You can’t do this exam on your own and I certainly didn’t. A supportive husband, family, exam buddies, clinical department and TPD were invaluable in helping and supporting me through this process. It is hard and exhausting but ultimately short lived and a massive achievement to pass, so give it your best shot.

I wish you all the best of luck and do get in touch if you have any questions.