ABMS Member Boards Oral Exams Go Virtual

On July 1, 2020

Even as states open across the country, traveling by air and taking an examination in an enclosed space with a large group of individuals presents a significant public health risk due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 for candidates who want to become board certified physicians. In response, the following American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) Member Boards have pivoted from postponing their oral exams to moving them online.

Some Member Boards require candidates to take an oral examination, in addition to a written exam, to become board certified. In general, the written exam focuses on the individual’s medical knowledge whereas the oral exam focuses on how the candidate applies that knowledge to specific patient scenarios.

The American Board of Surgery (ABS) ran two successful virtual exam pilots for its General Surgery Certifying Examinations (CE) in May and June. Following the June pilot, ABS asked all general surgery and vascular surgery candidates who are eligible to take a CE in the 2020-21 academic year whether they preferred taking the exam in-person or remotely. Overall, 54 percent of respondents said that they preferred remote administration, while 23 percent had no preference. ABS will use the information gathered from this survey and post-exam participant surveys to guide decisions on the future administration of its oral exams.

Similarly, the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) asked candidates their preferred option for taking its oral examination. ABO could either reschedule the exam for fall, postpone it until spring 2021, or convert it to an online format. Nearly 80 percent of the candidates who responded to ABO’s survey preferred having a virtual exam and almost 90 percent of them were willing to participate in a pilot project to make that happen. In June, candidates were invited to join the pilot exam to be administered in July, with additional opportunities in August, September, and November. Understanding that future candidates may prefer the online format, ABO is studying potential structural changes to its initial certification exam framework.

The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPMR) will replace its in-person 2020 Part II Examination with virtual exam administrations in September, October, and November. Candidates will be assigned to one of the virtual exam dates, and those candidates also taking a subspecialty exam in 2020 will be assigned an administration that does not conflict with their other exam dates.

The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) will transition from its in-person ABOS Oral Examination to a new online ABOS Case Based Examination for 2020. ABOS anticipates that the in-person oral exam will resume in 2021.

The Board of Directors of the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) is reviewing all options for its Oral Certification Examination, including format, location, and timing. ABEM will provide an update in July.

© 2020, American Board of Medical Specialties

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