ABR, Stakeholders Remaining Flexible During Uncertain Times
by Brent J. Wagner, MD, ABR President
The current challenges facing the world have impacted our families, our friends, and ourselves in ways we would have struggled to imagine as recently as late last year. Medical professionals have continued to exercise their invaluable talents in the care of their patients while adapting to unusual and evolving circumstances. This includes residents and fellows across all specialties who must balance, as part of their training, the demands of both requisite clinical duties and self-directed learning.
For the ABR, as it became clear that standard exam development activities would not be effective in the short term, staff and volunteer content experts quickly made adjustments: test assembly activities for upcoming exams were revised to use remote conferencing software. While this is often not optimal for the volunteers, the modification to the process promised to support continued success in exam creation that would be relevant and cost effective.
In the days leading up to the ABR Board Meeting in March, increasing numbers of health systems across the country implemented travel restrictions. The Board responded with remote conferencing and a modified agenda that was focused on new circumstances for our candidate and diplomate stakeholders, including changes to planned exams. The adjustments were based on externalities at multiple levels, compounded by the inherent uncertainty of the variability, extent, and anticipated duration of disruption to normal exam administration processes. Shifting demands, both institutional and personal, altered the established preparation strategies for candidates, exacerbating existing stressors in the clinical setting and beyond. The closure of testing centers across the country and the impact on computer-based Pearson VUE exams for medical physics and radiation oncology were felt as early as April. Additionally, institutional restrictions would, of course, prevent travel to the ABR’s test centers for the image-rich diagnostic radiology computer-based exams as well as the oral exams for other radiology disciplines. For the most up-to-date schedule of exams, click here.
One of the underlying views of the ABR has been that no candidate should have their board certification status adversely impacted as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion of postponing ABR exams was a lengthy process, attempting to balance the need for flexibility and fairness with the imperative to maintain a consistent set of processes that would continue to represent a valid and valued credential. Stated a different way, maintaining high standards is important not only to continue to serve the public and the profession but also to recognize the substantial level of expertise, knowledge, and experience of the candidates who sit for the exams. In addition, over the past several weeks, the Board has sought out the perspective of faculty in training programs, including the Association of Program Directors in Radiology (APDR), Association of Program Directors in Interventional Radiology (APDIR), Association for Directors of Radiation Oncology Programs (ADROP), and Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs (CAMPEP), in making rescheduling decisions.
Acknowledging the uncertainty of the next several months, it is likely that future adjustments to the exam schedule may be needed. Such decisions will be announced months in advance of any changes and will attempt to put into action a reasonable response to external factors while providing flexible and safe options for our candidates.