Reflections on the RACP Exam Failure

This week, there was a large and very costly technology failure during the Royal Australian College of Physicians exam. The costs from this, aside from the financial have become very apparent. I’ve been observing social media and the fallout from this exam technology failure has exposed a few very important points for medical education.

  1. The amount of distress that delegates appear to be experiencing both leading up to and after the exam should not be acceptable. I’ve read descriptions of the way people have moulded their lives, made sacrifices, and very often appear to be incredibly tightly wound due to the immense tension the exam preparation places on them. I recall running into a friend last year before her exam preparation for the same college, and to see a woman of great strength, grace, intelligence and wisdom become reduced to someone resembling one of the ‘poor unfortunate souls’ from the Little Mermaid – in order to become someone of apparently more intelligence and qualification, simply does not make sense, and should not be happening.

This really struck a chord with me.

Why are we allowing exam processes such as these, and the tension that comes with them to dominate our lives?
Why have we not as a collective said that this is enough already?

As medicos, we simply seem to accept that life is crap when we are studying and doing exams. What if it didn’t need to be this way? From the voicing I’m hearing, this well could be the point that we have come to from the exposure of this technology failure.


Sacred Space

by Dr Amelia Stephens

As I have experienced training and working in medicine, there is all manner of chaos and turmoil that can present in the space of a day’s work. Our home is our sanctuary and the place we come back to, to rest and repose at the end of the working day. It is a space that we can feel safe, nurtured and supported, and allow ourselves to regenerate after what can often feel like we’ve run a marathon – physically and/or emotionally.

What I have discovered more of recently is the impact and effect my home environment and specifically bedroom can have on my ability to rest, and the quality of this rest.

Lack of Appreciation: Where Does it Leave Us?

by Dr Amelia Stephens

Recently, I was talking to a friend about preparing for a self-care event that she was due to speak at as part of her work role on that day. She was admonishing herself for leaving things to the last minute, and feeling the tension of not being as prepared as she would otherwise have liked. The lack of pre-preparation now meant that she felt ‘squeezed’ into doing things within a certain timeframe, which I am sure we can all relate to.


Easter Time – What brings the Joy?

by Dr Amelia Stephens

Easter time is seen as a family time. We have days off and school holidays that allow us to come together as families and communities to enjoy what has been a festivity for what seems like many aeons. Easter is when all sorts of chocolate eggs, bunnies and alike treats line the walls of our supermarkets, making it very much part of our societal playout at this time. Schools give out Easter egg treats and families have Easter egg hunts. Giving and receiving more sugar than most of us would normally otherwise contemplate is commonplace, and we really do need to ask, why?



by Dr Amelia Stephens

Last night when going to bed, a particular word came to me to consider – and this was preciousness.

This is not a word I have spent much time thinking about in the past, and was certainly not a word that I felt pertained to me. Being ‘too precious’ is something I know is not encouraged, and people still tease others for this apparently being the case.

What does it mean to be precious then, and why do we as a society still not value this quality within people?


‘Designer’ Vaginas: Whose design is it anyway?

by Dr Amelia Stephens

An article recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia showed the increased frequency of vulvoplasty in New South Wales, Australia (1). The intention of the study was to look at potential complications following this procedure and outcomes of the women who had the procedure done related to births following. What was interesting about this study, was seeing how the rates of vulvoplasty have increased, not only in Australia, but in other countries such as the U.K and U.S.A since the early 2000s. So from here, we need to ask a few questions. One you may be asking, rightfully so, is – what on earth is vulvoplasty?

What is vulvoplasty?
Vulvoplasty is an operation that changes the shape of the vulva, the external part of a woman’s genitals. It can be done for the purpose of correcting anatomical malformations that women are born with, that may affect their function or quality of life significantly, or, assisting with correcting scarring or malformation resulting from female genital mutilation. You may have heard the term ‘designer vagina’ and this is also associated with vulvoplasty. Strictly speaking, the vulva is a different anatomical location to the vagina, but it is common for the two to be considered the same thing.

‘Designer vaginas’, and vulvas, have become a more common cosmetic procedure, and as this study shows – it appears the incidence is increasing. As one could appreciate, this area of a woman’s body is quite sensitive, so undergoing surgery would be considerably painful at times.

So why are women lining up to have this procedure done?



Would You Like Some Sugar With That?

by Dr Amelia Stephens

No thank you – I’m sweet enough.

Recently I was looking at attending a medical education event for GPs. These events are needed as we of course require ongoing education as part of our working lives. What is accepted as the ‘best practice’ in medicine changes rapidly – and as we know changes are being made all over the world in medical fields on a daily basis, as new things are ‘discovered’, or we become more aware of what we need to be doing for our health.

Now, I was quite impressed by the line-up of presenters and topics as there was a broad range and some good quality presenters that I recognised. I was all set to fill out my registration form until I saw some of the fine print, which made me quite uncomfortable.


Breast Awareness & Women’s Health

Last night I attended a monthly presentation & discussion group for women, where the theme was ‘Breast Care Awareness’. This month, October, is Breast Cancer Awareness month  – which you may be familiar with as there are many initiatives and events on with this theme. The event that I attended offered a very different approach in the way breasts are currently viewed and discussed. There are many breast awareness campaigns that assist women in being aware of and detecting changes in their breasts, due to the very high prevalence of breast cancer in our society today.

There is still debate in medical circles about whether women should be examining their breasts, and how often/when GPs should be offering breast examination, due to the risk of causing ‘false alarm’ or causing harm from investigating lumps that may never cause concern. Likewise, there is controversy about breast screening programs (usually mammogram), and whether they are picking up too many early cancers that would otherwise have resolved, without invasive testing/treatment. From this couple of sentences alone – and no doubt what we see in the media from day to day, we can see that much of the conversation today about breasts is centred on breast cancer.

Whilst this is a very important conversation to continue having, there is also further for us to go in how we view and discuss women’s health on the whole. (more…)

Who’s Paying For Lunch?

Every day, doctor’s lunch rooms around the world are filled with the aroma of various delightful foods. From pastries to sandwiches, to your favourite Thai takeaway – it’s all on offer.

But who is offering, and what exactly? 

The lunches I am referring to are those sponsored, paid for or conducted by pharmaceutical companies.

It has become common practice for pharmaceutical companies to sponsor breakfasts, lunches, dinners and even coffee breaks with a small to large sprinkling of their own input as to the latest medical therapies and evidence supporting their products.

Many people welcome these seeming donations of food with open arms, and mouths, as no doubt they have grumbling bellies after being on ward rounds for 5 hours, seeing a long list of patients or not having time to make breakfast let alone lunch in the morning.

However, in truth, what effect does attending these lunches and consuming this food have?