Volunteer Spotlight – IR

Volunteer Spotlight - IR

‘Black Box’ Curiosity Led Him to Become ABR Volunteer

By Rodney Campbell, ABR Communications Manager


Brian Funaki, MD

Like many of his colleagues, Brian Funaki, MD, remembers what it was like to earn ABR certification as a diagnostic radiologist in the 20th century.

All roads led to Louisville’s Executive West Hotel. Now a Crowne Plaza property, the hotel was the site of in-person oral certifying exams that candidates had to pass to earn Initial Certification. ABR staff spent weeks there every year and thousands of anxious candidates walked the hotel’s hallways.

It was necessary but not everyone’s idea of fun.

“Anybody who’s my age, if you mention Louisville, the hair on the back of your neck stands up a little bit,” Dr. Funaki said. “It’s something that anyone who has been through will never forget.”

That experience was part of the reason why Dr. Funaki wanted to become an ABR volunteer. Now a question writer and oral examiner for the IR/DR Certifying Exam, he knows what goes into compiling and administering ABR exams. He has looked inside what he once considered a “Black Box.”

“You’re never objective when you’re taking the exam,” he said. “But now, seeing the other side of it, it is extremely well done and very fair.”

Dr. Funaki, a professor of radiology and chief of the section of vascular and interventional radiology for UChicago Medicine, meets remotely with his fellow committee members for an hour most weeks and once a year in person to put the exam together. He believes that all the work he and his experienced colleagues expend makes the exam a relevant device for measuring candidate knowledge and improving patient safety.

“You get a good sense of what people know and what they don’t know and what’s fair and what isn’t,” Dr. Funaki said. “I think that as far as a certifying exam, I don’t know how you could really do much better than what we do right now. The exam is very reflective of what happens in the real world.”

Darryl Zuckerman, MD, a vascular and interventional radiologist at Yale University with more than 30 years of experience, encouraged Dr. Funaki to become an ABR volunteer. Dr. Zuckerman is chair of the certifying exam committee that counts Dr. Funaki among its members.

“Brian is a very well-respected veteran interventional radiologist,” Dr. Zuckerman said. “Personally, I have learned a great deal during my professional interactions with him, whether through the ABR, SIR, or in the world of medical publishing. He is well versed in nearly all aspects of interventional radiology and has a well-deserved reputation across the IR community in the U.S.”

Dr. Funaki teaches and performs clinical work at UChicago Medicine. He said working with candidates makes him a better question writer and oral examiner, because his mind never strays far from what his trainees should know to become certified.

“We all strive for the boards to be reflective of what’s real life and what’s fair across the breadth of practice in the United States,” he said. “When we think about that and what we teach, it all goes through the lens of the boards. I’m always thinking about different things that are on the boards and how I can impart that knowledge to our trainees.”

Serving as a volunteer has been an education for Dr. Funaki and his colleagues. He said that there are several things he wishes he had known as a candidate nervously anticipating his certifying exam in Louisville in 1996.

“I knew (the ABR was) in charge of testing us,” he said. “I didn’t understand the time commitment that volunteers make. Learning about all of that and demystifying everything was eye-opening for me … to see how an exam is vetted and to know that a tremendous group of people who span the fields geographically are putting these exams together. The amount of time, effort, and thought that goes into exams is substantial.”

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