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5 easy tips to keep in mind before the upcoming clinical component of the Canadian Physiotherapy Competency Exam (PCE)

As many new physio grads and international physios probably know, the final hurdle to full independent practice in Canada is coming up this month. Six years ago I was in these shoes and getting nervous about how these impending exams would impact my future. Looking back, I can barely remember the specifics of what I studied, but I do remember how I prepared for the PCE, and for what is worth, it must have been enough because I well and truly passed the exam and moved on to many exciting (and sometimes frustrating) opportunities in the physiotherapy world (stay tuned for my blog on physio registration in Australia). Although I am unable to give any content specifics, I want to share a few tips on preparation that helped me before and after my PCE. If you do nothing else before the PCE, at least follow these guidelines! I hope they will help to alleviate some of the pressure you may be feeling, and ease any pre exam jitters.

1) Practice, practice, practice! 5 days a week

This advice seems obvious, but the easiest way to do this is to have already started working in a clinical position. Hopefully by this point, many of you will have continued working from your placements, or secured other work as a Physiotherapy Resident. This gives you the opportunity to make studying for your PCE a habit and refine your patient interaction, assessment and treatment skills daily. It provides a way for you to make clinical decisions in a real-life context, and expose you to peers and mentors to help guide your learning. Whether you have started working under your provisional practice license or not, be sure to form study groups and engage in practice scenarios on a regular basis. It will feel impossible at times to 'know it all' and to even know where to begin studying: so figure out what you 'don't know' by completing sample practice scenarios, and focus your book learning from the gaps you identify in practice.
If you haven't already checked out the Alliance's guide for candidates, go here for more information and sample questions.

2) Know the format, expectations and rules around the PCE

Knowing the content is one thing; knowing what to expect with the format is another. Know the structure of the PCE! How many stations are there? How long do you have at each station? What type of stations (practical or written) will there be? Nobody can be totally prepared for all the content on the exam. But at the very least don't get bamboozled by the structure.
This way you can focus on whats important: reading the question properly and answering/performing what is asked of you accurately! Check what documentation and equipment you need to bring to the PCE in advance, and have it organized ahead of time so you're not fumbling for it the night before. Finally, be aware of the rules regarding cheating and confidentiality. The Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators takes cheating VERY seriously. This includes discussing the content after the exam. As soon as you're done the exam, be DONE and don't discuss or duplicate any exam content with your peers. It won't change the outcome of the exam in a positive way (besides, you already passed right?!). You're done: Go celebrate and talk about anything but the PCE! In fact, if you are in Toronto on November 18th, healthSwapp is hosting RehabTO: an exciting new event on health innovation. And you're invited! Come join us at the Ryerson DMZ downtown for drinks, appetizers and networking. RSVP here.

3) You've heard it before: Safety First!

This seems so simple, but is still easily forgotten in a panic situation on the clinical exam. Make safety your number one priority at all stations. Know your precautions and contraindications. Be professional in all your mock patient interactions. It's an easy way to save marks.

4) Know when to pull the plug on preparing - especially the night before

In the upcoming weeks, balance practice with exercise, hobbies, socializing and rest. I recommend practicing 5 days a week, not 7. The night before the exam is not a good time to be cramming and getting anxious and stressed about what you may not know. You'll lose sleep over it and it will affect your performance during the exam the next day. Remember the clinical exam is draining, intense, and 5-6 hours in length. Give yourself the best chance at getting through it by being well rested.

5) Be confident

Believe you are competent and you will pass the clinical exam. You have done everything you can to set yourself up for success. Remember you have been getting prepared for the PCE over the last two years by attending lectures, tutorials, clinical placements and studying (probably constantly!). Remember all the Objective Structured Clinical Examination's (OSCE's) you completed were in preparation for this exam. If you cared to get as far as you have, you will do well. And if you don't know it by 11pm the night before the exam, you'll never know it in time for this exam, so just accept this and go to bed (see tip #4!). Once the PCE is done, you will have a lifetime of opportunity to learn about all the things you didn't know - or better yet - things that you want to know that will help to transform you into a clinician with his or her own unique set of professional skills. (Stay tuned for my next blog post if you're looking for some guidance on the best courses to take once the PCE is behind you).
For now, take a deep breath and good luck on November 15th! healthSwapp welcomes to a wonderful profession and we look forward to connecting with you and learning about your contribution to the rehabilitation community.