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Tackling the qualifiers: My exam nightmares

Phil has to overcome an inner conflict as his love of football clashes with his dislike of exams

Phil has to overcome an inner conflict as his love of football clashes with his dislike of exams

I don't do exams any more. I used to, in the old days. It seemed at one point that I didn't do anything else. I did my MB BS and then I did my MRCGP and then after the third try I got my DRCOG, and then I was deep into my sports medicine diploma - and then everything changed.

I remember the moment well. I was sitting in my study, head clutched between despairing hands as I struggled to grasp the basics of a distance-learning module on biomechanics, and my concentration was broken by the sound of my son vomiting and crying upstairs. I heard my wife running up and down the stairs with clean sheets and a bowl of water, and I remember thinking bollocks to biomechanics.

I realised I knew as much as I wanted to know about medicine, ever. I switched off the computer, found some paracetamol and went upstairs. And that was that.

Ten years down the line, I find myself back in the nightmare world of peer appraisal. If I want to continue to be the team doctor for Hartlepool United (and why would I not?) I have to undergo a weekend of crowd doctor training and assessment, and earn myself a certificate, and it does not sit well with me. Like revalidation in general practice, it is no longer enough just to qualify for your vocation. Now you've got to keep qualifying over and over again.

Terrible nightmares

How will I cope if a terrorist dirty bomb goes off at Hartlepool's Victoria Park? 'I dunno' seems a reasonable response. There have only been 12 official major incidents in all of the UK, not including the Blitz, and although they've been terrible nightmares, capturing the headlines of the world and some of the most appalling images ever to be seen on these shores, they have all had something in common. None of them happened in Hartlepool.

I'm no expert in international terrorist policy, but I'll venture this. Even if al-Qaeda vowed to target only British football grounds, I would be relatively relaxed.

Al-Qaeda may be inhuman but they are no fools, and they are not going to waste valuable semtex on Hartlepool United. I can just see the headlines: 'Bomb in Hartlepool causes £2m worth of improvements'. Frankly, we are not a sexy target.

Nevertheless, I find myself sweating profusely in a viva. 'A man has had his arms blown off,' says my paramedic examiner. 'He's running around like a demented chicken and spraying arterial blood in a scarlet aerosol. What colour armband would you put on him: green - walking wounded, blue - serious, red - very serious, or white - as near dead as makes no odds?'

'Where,' I felt like countering, 'am I going to put the armband?'

I passed the exam and felt childishly pleased. Now I have a lovely certificate with gold letters, and I can be a football club doctor for another five years. Unless they move the goalposts again.

A few days later, back at Victoria Park, my new skills are put to the test. A drunk berk is suspended between two St John's ambulancemen, leering and belching in a cartoon fashion. 'Got any Gaviscon, doc?' one asks. I pat my pockets. I haven't got any Gaviscon, so I slap a white armband on him.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

Phil Peverley

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