I took my boards yesterday. I am so used to doing practice tests online, to using every spare moment to open a book and do a practice question, that I forgot what it's like to not do that. It's become a habit, a compulsion, to take free moments and turn them into study time. Now the test is over, but I feel no different than I was day before yesterday. I have to adjust to the new, test-free me. It's very disorienting.
I remember this sensation after I took my Step 1 board exams. I wandered around the house restlessly for a few days, turning my computer on and off, cleaning, hovering around my husband until he finally suggested that I go to the gym (a good idea). Eventually I settled down, into a new routine that didn't include 200 daily practice questions, each with a 2 paragraph question stem and answer choices a through j. But now I'm back to this post-board restlessness after Step 2. You think it would be relieving, to have the test over with. But with the test's completion, a significant effort in your life is over. And you are left with the residual habits and anxiety that have unknowingly become part of your daily routine, without anywhere to direct them.
I think anyone in intense academia can relate. I remember the end of my dad's dissertation, when he would dazedly relinquish the Apple Mac (high tech with a 7" screen) to a six year-old me to play Shuffle Puck and McGee. Even though he had a diploma on the wall and cap on the desk, it didn't feel right that he didn't need the computer anymore. Even to me, the house was strangely quiet without the sound of the dot-matrix printer. It had been my bedtime lullaby for as long as I could remember.
I imagine this will happen in the days following my Step 3 boards and written/oral specialty boards. Each time I'm a little more prepared for this strange inner restlessness. It's something that was new for me in medical school, yet another course in the unwritten curriculum. And on many levels it tests doctors in other ways than the questions. It asks you to devote your entire thought process to something, then leave it and be able to shift focus. The test demands all your effort, with no immediate result to show for it. It makes you think quickly, so you have time for every problem. It doesn't take excuses, only answers.
Such is the daily practice of medicine. And these lessons are probably even more valuable information than the actual questions asked.