May 30, 2023

Dispelling an Urban Myth

Marc J. Homer, MD, FACR

Over the years I have heard stories about examiners playing pranks on other examiners, as well as weird things happening to residents during the oral boards. These stories may or may not be true. One of these stories was about ceiling plaster falling on a resident as he was being examined. Well, I was that resident. As I recount my experience, I will not divulge the names of my examiners, although I vividly remember most of them. It is said that traumatic events are often remembered in detail. I can attest to that.

In 1975 I took my oral boards in Pittsburgh. My first room was nuclear medicine, and I felt that I did pretty well in that room. My second room was bone (and no, my examiner was not Harold G. Jacobson, MD!). I was sitting on a chair in front of view boxes, and my examiner was sitting on the edge of his hotel room bed approximately 3 feet behind me. Every case he showed me was of bone trauma. With some cases, "RSNA Case of the Day" was written at the bottom of the radiograph.

I had little practical experience with bone trauma cases at my highly academic hospital. I knew more about osteopoikilosis than about the classification of pelvic fractures. After approximately 15 minutes into the examination, a chunk of ceiling plaster fell on the view box and shattered all over the view box table and me. Neither I nor the examiner said a word. I brushed the plaster off my blue blazer and the exam continued.

A few minutes later another chunk of plaster fell on the view box and me. I turned to the examiner and said, "If you don't kill me in this room, the Lord will." My examiner did not respond at all, and his serious facial expression did not change one iota. At the end of the exam, he said to me, "I hope you do better in the other rooms." Just what an examinee wants to hear!

My last room was neuroradiology. When I introduced myself to the examiner, he said, "Aren't you the resident who had the ceiling fall on him?" When I answered yes, he smiled and said, "For that reason alone you should pass the boards." The story of the ceiling plaster falling on me had already beaten me down the hotel hallway! I did very well in the neuroradiology room because after 20 minutes the examiner said to me, "Now I am going to show you cases that we are deciding whether to use in the future."

At the end of neuroradiology examination, I felt calm and told him, " You know the funny thing about the ceiling plaster falling was that neither I nor the examiner in that bone room were smart enough to move the view box, table and chair to another part of the hotel room, far away from where the plaster fell." I remember him laughing. I bet he used this information to embarrass that examiner at some time during the week.

On that day I achieved two things. I passed the oral boards, and I became that anonymous resident who had a portion of the ceiling fall on him during the exam. At least the readers of this essay now know that this story is not an urban myth!