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Prometric Centers and PPE: Handling USMLE Test Day During COVID-19

With testing season in full swing now, Prometric has finally opened some test centers amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Of course, there are some caveats: such as 50% testing facility capacity and the requirement of gloves and masks during tests.

This personal protective equipment (PPE) mandate seems to be what troubles students the most, as these articles of clothing are quite uncomfortable. Here at Med School Tutors, we decided to put together a few tips and tricks to help ease that discomfort caused by your PPE.

How to Manage Wearing PPE During USMLE Testing: Masks and Gloves

1. Which mask to use? 

There are two types of masks people are using regularly at this time: the N95 and the plain surgical mask. If there is no strict requirement by Prometric that the mask must be an N95, then I would go with the regular surgical mask. The regular surgical mask is more comfortable, and it doesn’t make a tight seal around your mouth which makes it more breathable.

2. How to keep your glasses from fogging up while wearing a mask.

One issue with this arises if you wear glasses, because the air isn’t effectively trapped inside that mask, whatever you breath out tends to fog up your glasses. An effective way to get around that is to make sure and mold the mask to your nose. All the surgical masks have this capability, so if you pinch the nasal bridge of the mask, it’ll help form a little trap for any air coming up. This will minimize the fogging.

Another way to get around that issue is to wear contact lenses. The biggest downside of the plain surgical mask is that it doesn’t provide anywhere near as much protection as the N95 from coronavirus. But, if you practice social distancing guidelines and the test center spaces you out appropriately, this won’t be a problem.

3. Bring extra masks with you to the Prometric Center.

Finally, make sure to bring extra masks with you. Overtime, the masks tend to get stuffy due to us breathing our hot breath on them for hours on end. A fresh one helps a bit in easing that problem.

Tips for Comfortably Wearing Gloves During USMLE Testing

1. Make sure you have gloves that fit.

When it comes to wearing gloves, a few things can help make them more comfortable. First off, make sure you have the right size. If your gloves are sliding off, or they don’t fit on your fingertips, it will make it very difficult to grab things, move your mouse and type.

If you are unable to find the appropriate size glove, you can double glove using two different sizes or the same size. Typically, people will wear the larger glove first and then place the smaller size over it to make it tighter on their hand. This also works with gloves of the same size and is just up to personal preference.

2. Bring extra gloves with you to the Prometric Center.

Just like the masks, make sure to bring multiple pairs, as your hands will get sweaty inside the gloves giving you that stuff, sticky feeling.

Once you have the appropriate size and number of gloves, make sure you have the appropriate material. Latex gloves are allergenic for one, and they make your skin very dry.

3. Bring lotion!

Try using latex-free gloves or bring some type of moisturizer to use during your breaks to help combat the discomfort associated with this. Dry skin can cause itching, and that’s the last thing you want to be doing during an exam.

In order to get used to all this, make sure to practice using these materials in the appropriate fashion before going to your actual test day. Take an NBME with your mask and gloves on if needed, but you can also just try wearing them for extended periods so that you get use to the feeling.

If anything, this is good practice for whenever you’re going to be in the operating room during your clinicals (hopefully these can be done in person again soon!).