Focus on MP

Focus on MP

August Administration Completes Busy Year for IC Exams

By Matthew B. Podgorsak, PhD; Kalpana M. Kanal, PhD; Robert A. Pooley, PhD, ABR Trustees; J. Anthony Seibert, ABR Governor; and Geoffrey S. Ibbott, PhD, ABR Associate Executive Director for Medical Physics


Matthew B. Podgorsak, PhD, Kalpana M. Kanal, PhD, Robert A. Pooley, PhD, ABR Trustees; J. Anthony Seibert, ABR Governor; and Geoffrey S. Ibbott, PhD, ABR Associate Executive Director for Medical Physics

The final certification step for ABR-eligible candidates for medical physics is the oral exam, also known as the Part 3 exam. This year, there have been three oral exam events: the Pilot Exam in March; the first full oral exam in May, which was specifically for the candidates who were unable to take the exam in 2020 due to pandemic shutdowns; and the third exam event was completed in August for candidates scheduled for the 2021 exam (which would have otherwise been given in May). These exams have been delivered remotely, with software developed by the ABR in conjunction with commercial software using the Cisco Webex platform. Each event was successful and provided important feedback for improving the process for future remote exams.

The most recent remote oral exam occurred August 14 through 17 for 244 candidates in therapy medical physics, 52 candidates in diagnostic medical physics, and three candidates in nuclear medical physics. In the previous two exam administrations, a primary and secondary examiner were assigned to each interaction for a given candidate, along with an ABR-assigned personal “navigator” who helped the candidate through the check-in process and exam period. These navigators also helped the examiners throughout the exam. The secondary examiner was put in place to provide a seamless transfer with minimal downtime during an exam should issues arise with connectivity problems for an assigned primary examiner.

Based on the very small number of network and software issues experienced during the previous exams, and the few times a secondary examiner was needed, a decision was made to use only primary examiners (and emergency backup examiners in the case of conflicts) for the August exam. This resulted in two beneficial outcomes: (1) the number of volunteer ABR examiners was halved, simplifying the recruitment, and (2) the large amount of “downtime” experienced by the secondary examiners was eliminated. In terms of outcomes, there were only three network connectivity problems that required the use of a scheduled “recovery period” for candidates who couldn’t complete their exam due to technical issues, and in no case was there a need for a secondary examiner.

Refinements made to the software platform provided a better user interface for the examiners in navigating items and scoring candidate responses, and the candidates were given initial default control of the screen, enabling interactions with the content (e.g., adjusting image display magnification, window/level, using the mouse pointer). Of the 299 exams initiated in August 2021, 100% were successfully completed, with a combined pass rate of 64% for all first-time candidates.

For 2022, the Medical Physics Certifying Oral Exam will continue to be delivered remotely. Our plans are to implement a remote exam platform fully designed by the ABR information technology group to provide better control, integration, and delivery of exam items. This will eliminate the need to use Webex and simplify the whole exam process. Also, there will be two exam events: the first in April 2022 for most eligible candidates, and a second one-day exam in October 2022 with a limited number of seats for candidates unable to sit for the May exam, as well as conditioned and failed candidates from previous exams. We are always interested in receiving feedback and seek suggestions from candidates and diplomates to continue improving the final certification exam process as part of the ABR Mission: ”to certify that our diplomates demonstrate the requisite knowledge, skill, and understanding of their disciplines to the benefit of patients.” Please direct comments to

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