10 Ways to Prepare for (and Pass!) the Physician Licensure Exam (Philippine Med Boards)

Dr. Karl Homer Vargas Nievera, RN, MD

Dr. Karl Homer V. Nievera, RN, MD | World Executives Digest |  As I write this, the results of the 2017 Physician Licensure Exams or more popularly known as the Philippine Medical Boards, has just been released by the PRC. After all the congratulations have been said tonight, everything I went through flashed back like a movie being played in my head. It was all blood, sweat and tears — and they were all worth it. I want to share how I did it, how to prepare, and yes, eventually pass the med boards. Read on.

This is for the Lord, who became my strong tower during the times when I wanted to give up. For L., my family, my friends, and for everyone who prayed and always believed in me when I didn’t. You guys kept me sane during the actual medical board exams. I can’t thank you enough.

“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”- Eric Thomas, The Secret to Success

Hi! I’m Karl, an average student from the College of Medicine of De La Salle Health Sciences Institute. I promised God and myself that I will write an article of some sort to help those who will be taking the next batch of the PLE right after I pass the boards because I was also searching for a guide during the preparation and the actual week of the exams.

This is for those who are about to sail into the journey we call “preparing for the boards”. Now, I’m sure that you guys will most likely be reviewing in a review center, and some will do self-study. We each have our own preferences and this guide, which I hope would be of great help, will be able to tone down your anxieties, worries and fears about the Physician Licensure Examination. I am formatting this article as an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) type. Let’s begin.

#1 WHAT should I do as of now?

Well the answer is obvious, you READ. Yes, you heard me right. READ. If you are in your undergrad years, well… There is nothing really to do except to read all you can. If you’ve been reading books from the start, just continue doing that because the boards will always be book-based especially on the basic subjects you took during your 1st and 2nd year.

If you’re currently in your internship days, or better yet if you’re still in your clerkship, you will want to read a case or two every duty status or so. I know you guys have time to check your news feed in Facebook for 30 mins to an hour. So, why not allot some time (20-30 minutes) to brush up on the cases that you handled or are handling during your duty time? If you’re in a specific department during this month, read up on cases that belong to under it and PUT THEM TO HEART. Not just for the time being or just to “get by” the morning census.

You will need all the support you can get, especially from your parents. (Dr. Nievera's parents, Homer and Jinky)
You will need all the support you can get, especially from your parents. (Dr. Nievera’s parents, Homer and Jinky)

It will even help you if ever a resident or a consultant asks you out of nowhere, a specific question in that particular case. Trust me, you’d thank yourself in the future when you’re reviewing already. So, keep that in mind.

#2 WHAT should I read and HOW should I read OUTSIDE of the hospital?

First, I would like to recommend that you borrow/buy review books (BRS books! especially in physiology) since these have lectures and questions integrated in the topics as well. They also have rationales for the answers that are provided. Next, read those review books just like reading a novel or a short story. Again, don’t try to memorize stuff yet. Just read and try to understand. Leave the memorizing part in your actual review days.

Reviewing for the boards starts with all the diligent duty work. (Dr. Nievera with his duty mates at the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City)
Reviewing for the boards starts with all the diligent duty work. (Dr. Nievera with his duty mates at the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City)

Now this “reading” of yours is a way to prepare your mind for the actual review season because the reviewers that you will be reading are in bulk. And when I say BULK, I really mean B-U-L-K (I will be attaching a picture of my review materials that I used during the review at the bottom of the page). So, you’d ask me, “how will this help me for the review season?” Well, if you’re like me who enjoyed most of my days as an intern with no review at all during the off days, then this will really benefit you.

If you start reading halfway through internship, then you’d be reading your materials way faster at the start of the review season versus if you just started to read AT THE START of the review season (which I HIGHLY discourage). I personally started to “read” around March of 2017 (since my internship was from June 30, 2016 to June 30, 2017) and even if I barely had 3 months left before starting the review, it helped my mind to be trained once again in reading so many materials.

I can say that the load was a lot more during our time because we only had 2 WHOLE MONTHS to review, unlike in the past where they were usually given 3 months to prepare for the boards.

#3 WHAT SUBJECTS should I prioritize to read?

Again, if you’re in a specific department, read up on those cases because this will help you in your review days and allow you to give less attention to the clinical subjects. For the boards, the BASIC subjects will definitely help you in all the tests that you will be taking since it will integrate the basic knowledge you have from the basic subjects, if ever you are dumbfounded with a specific question.

The basic subjects I’m talking about are Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology. During your review days, I suggest that you pay attention to these 6 subjects because they will be your foundation in eliminating answers in the actual board exams.

#4 You mentioned BIOCHEMISTRY!!! HOW would I be able to review that?!

If you will be reviewing in a review center like me, the lecturers there will definitely be able to help you out especially with their handouts combined. This is actually one of the EASIEST subjects (yes, I am not kidding) that you can get a high grade in during the boards, in order to pull your grades up.

So during your review days as an intern, don’t worry about this yet.  If you will be doing self-study, you can borrow review materials from your friends, or better yet read on lippincotts biochemistry or BRS biochemistry. You can also ask other people who took the boards and did self-study.

#5 I’m starting my review in a week’s time or so, what now?

Set your mind straight. Say to yourself that you really want to do this. This is not a walk in the park. This will test your discipline, your mental toughness, your faith, and your determination. This is the first thing to do. You have to really WANT that LICENSE to serve others because if you enter this journey with a weak determination, you’d stumble somewhere along the way.

You will be giving this your all: countless nights of 4 to 5 hours of sleep, unlimited caffeine intakes just to stay awake, and doing nothing but just reading and studying. This will be a routine in the time period of your review season. It will mostly be allotted for lectures and study time.

Expect it to be something like this: Wake up – study – eat – study – go to lectures – eat while studying – go home – study – sleep – wake up 4-5 hours after then you will be repeating the process. So yes, it’s basically all STUDY and some off times just to get your mind right back on track.

You won't be able to get through med school without some break. Some R&R for these doctors.
You won’t be able to get through med school without some break. Some R&R for these doctors.

#6 I’m currently reviewing and can’t help but fall asleep at times. HELP!

Napapagod din ang utak, hindi lang ang puso. Remember that. You can’t expect your mind to function if it’s dead tired so yes, you can take naps. Do not feel guilty about those quick naps. Usually, the recommended time for naps is around 15 minutes to an hour or so. DO NOT exceed 90 minutes as it would already be called “sleeping”. This was emphasized during our review days so I’m just passing it on to you guys. Do not be guilty because if you think of it in a logical way, it will be something like this: 30 minutes of sleep > 30 minutes of unproductive time (not absorbing anything at all while trying to stay awake). Which is better? You be the judge. Again, this is just based from my personal experience.

Just some of the reviewers Dr. Nievera read over and over. Be resourceful by looking for more reviewers outside the review school.

#7 Should I be resourceful?

This is a pretty subjective question since what I mean here is that if you CAN be resourceful, please do so. If your time permits you to be resourceful, go ahead (if you have no more backlogs on your readings or you have extra time to study other materials). So, what does being resourceful mean? Well it means that you can approach your friends, co-interns from other schools and see what review materials you will need from their shack. At most, you can borrow sample exams to help you prepare for the actual board questions and you can assess yourself at the same time on what your weak points are; let’s say in a specific subject, or a specific topic, or probably in eliminating choices as well.

But I will warn you. NOT EVERYTHING you hear from whoever will ever really appear in the actual board exam itself. You may be risking precious time in believing a specific “tip” from someone, so this will be your call. You can either choose to master the materials you have at your disposal, or you can decide to add more and pick out specific topics you want to master. Again, this is subjective.

#8 It’s my first set of exams tomorrow. What should I do?

Focus on your first subject and MAKE SURE you get a high grade. Biochemistry will be one of the easiest subjects (well this is for our time 2017) along with legal medicine. The first subject will always determine your outlook on the exams, and if you have an easy time answering the questions, then you will have a positive outlook on the rest of the subjects to come. The first day will be hard—anxiety sets in, what questions would appear, kaya ko ba ‘to?

KAYA MO. Tell that to yourself. Pray before the exam, pick up your pencil, and start dissecting the questions. After your first exam, the rest will follow and little by little, you will eventually calm down.

#9 I finished my first set of exams, what should I do in the upcoming week?

If you have unfinished readings, read them IF you can. This will be a difficult week especially if you’ve been discussing answers to a specific question and you dwell on it too much. This will really shatter your mood, so I cannot EMPHASIZE this more: DO NOT discuss the questions. DO NOT find for the answers online (well that was my mistake) because from personal experience, I had anxiety attacks during the 2nd week of preparing for the next set of subjects. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to experience that.

Only the examiners really know what the answer to a specific question is. So, after each subject, go to a corner around the campus or anywhere away from those discussing the questions on the exam, and go study for the next subject (yes you can still study and cram the essentials for a specific subject). After studying, return to your room a few minutes before the start of the next subject.

#10 I’m done with the 2 weeks! What to do while waiting for the results of the Med Boards?

PRAY. Yes, pray and pray and pray. After praying, you can do whatever you want. Distract yourself from the long wait. Go to places, go play video games, eat out with your friends and loved ones. This is the time to do it. Reward yourself for a job well done! If you know you’ve done ALL that you could, then you just have to lift it all up to God. Let Him do the rest and let’s hope for the best. Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa.

A lot of prayers helped Dr. Nievera get through med school and especially in preparing for the exams. This church in Makati was where Dr. Nievera and his family frequently attended for Sunday mass.
A lot of prayers helped Dr. Nievera get through med school and especially in preparing for the exams. This church in Makati was where Dr. Nievera and his family frequently attended for Sunday mass.

**P.S. For the Catholics out there: Should you need spiritual guidance, here is a list of prayers that I prayed during the review. And yes, it helped me A LOT. Your faith will be tested during these times especially in the week after the boards. HAVE FAITH. You can search online for the prayers mentioned.

  • Jude Thaddeus 9 day novena – of course, the patron saint of Hopeless cases and things despaired of. (I actually completed 2 cycles)
  • Novena to Infant of Prague – a very powerful prayer (I did this during the few days before the results. This is a nine-hour novena, to be said every hour for 9 hours in one day. You can repeat it everyday.
  • The Holy Rosary (I started this during my review each time I wake up every morning until the results came out)
  • Novena to Mother of Perpetual Help (This was what I did during my Nursing Boards, and what my mom prayed during my medicine boards)
  • Personal prayers in between will also help you.
  • Worrying is an insult to God (Matthew 6:30). Continue to pray and trust in His mercy especially if you’ve already done your part in this journey.

For the whole 2 or 3 months of your review, you should be putting ALL of THESE inside your head and heart. Half the battle is won if you are confident with yourself as you’re seated in the exam room.

If you have more thoughts or questions, I’d be glad to answer them! You can send me a message on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karlnievera

God bless you and may you also be licensed to heal!