Tricky exams for health practitioners


A couple years ago, I read a story about a medical student who was tricked by his professor. In this story, the professor asked the student to assess a patient’s retina, and told the student that he should expect to see a certain pattern of blood vessels on the retina. The medical student examined the patient’s eye and agreed, claiming to have seen it as well. Much to the embarrassment of the medical student, the professor then revealed that he was examining a glass eye.

I’m scared to death of this sort of thing happening to me.

Today I had a mock exam in my physical assessment class. Because it’s an exam situation, we’ve been told that we’re supposed to expect a normal, healthy standardised patient (SP), and so if we’re nervous and can’t actually find a pulse, for example, we can just say a pulse rate that would be normal for a healthy adult. I happened to be randomly assigned to the head/ears/eyes/nose/throat scenario, and one part of this assessment is examination of the SP’s tonsils.

I looked inside my SP’s mouth with my penlight to look at his mouth, tongue, the insides of his cheeks and his tonsils. The tonsils are supposed to be just visible around the sides of the back of the throat, and sometimes they’re not visible at all. I couldn’t see the tonsils, but rather than just writing down “tonsils +1,” I took the tongue depressor out and asked, “Have you had your tonsils removed?”

I felt like I dodged a bullet when he said, “Yes, they were removed three years ago.”


    title = {Tricky exams for health practitioners},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-03-14,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Tricky exams for health practitioners" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 14 Mar 2012. Web. 24 Mar 2018. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Mar 14). Tricky exams for health practitioners [Web log post]. Retrieved from

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