Executive Director: ABR, Stakeholders Overcame Challenges in 2021

Executive Director: ABR, Stakeholders Overcame Challenges in 2021

A demanding year for everyone is almost complete and we’re anticipating a better 2022. ABR Executive Director Brent Wagner, MD, MBA, recently took time to answer a few questions about looking back and ahead as we prepare for the New Year.

What were the ABR’s biggest accomplishments in 2021?

“The ABR’s most visible accomplishment of 2021 was the successful remote delivery of more than 5,000 computer-based exams and 1,000 oral exams. We are indebted to our many talented and dedicated volunteers, whether highly experienced or new to the organization, who worked with ABR staff to develop this important programmatic change. The technology included many elements that were beyond our direct control, and we were grateful for the patience of our candidates as they worked with us to address the challenges inherent in a process that was novel, complex, and evolving. The scope of our exams was essentially unchanged and there were very few security concerns; overall, the pass rates were in line with historical averages.

ABR Executive Director Brent Wagner, MD, MBA
ABR Executive Director Brent Wagner, MD, MBA

“We also developed a policy for residency time off that attempted to increase flexibility, at the discretion of the program, for parental, caregiver, and medical leave. Acknowledging that the residency program faculty are responsible for verifying completion of training based on achievement of competency, we were addressing a very specific element: the amount of time off which could be permitted during the residency yet still allow for graduation at the anticipated date (e.g. June 30). We had the benefit of extensive collegial discussions with resident and faculty groups; ultimately, the Board of Governors approved a policy that, we hope, balances the need for flexibility with a reasonable length of training to support the standards for eventual board certification.

“Behind the scenes, we introduced a platform for creating and reviewing exam content (questions). Although this was not immediately apparent to exam candidates, the new interface made question-writing and committee review more efficient when compared to the existing software. Further, it will allow more flexibility in exam assembly to remove items that approach obsolescence or lack clinical relevance.”

Remote exams marked a big transition for the ABR and candidates this past year. What should candidates expect from the platform in the future?

“Because of the urgency created by the pandemic, we were forced to rapidly develop the platforms that we needed to use in 2021. While highly functional and reasonably successful, our first efforts were imperfect. However, we had anticipated, early in the process, that we would be engaged in an iterative process for the foreseeable future, and we planned to adapt and optimize the platform over time. For example, although development is still in its early stages, candidates will likely see an improved “remote proctor” security tool in 2022 that will be both more reliable and easier to use. Other enhancements are under consideration that will improve the efficiency and scalability of exam administration to reduce costs in the future. 

“This past year, the ABR held numerous stakeholder meetings about initial and continuing certification. Why are these meetings so important and how often should candidates and diplomates expect these opportunities to be available in the future?

“We have expanded the role of our advisory committees in all four radiologic disciplines; these groups have been invaluable by offering challenges to our internally generated assumptions and thoughtful suggestions on opportunities for improvement. In recent years, most of our other stakeholder discussions were with colleagues representing program directors, department chairs, and resident groups; these were either occasional updates or targeted to evolving topics (e.g. residency leave or remote exams, as mentioned above). In 2022, we will be expanding these opportunities to public town halls, beginning in February, that will be open to anyone who wants clarification of a policy, consideration of an idea, or insight into the way the ABR views its mission. We’re looking forward to the dialogue.”

Looking ahead, what are the ABR’s priorities in 2022?

“We have recently formalized the way we collect the data we obtain as part of feedback from our post-exam surveys. The next step will be a systematic distribution of this information, including comments from exam candidates and OLA participants (diplomates), to provide better feedback to volunteer committees as they attempt to improve the quality and relevance of the questions the ABR uses for assessment. 

“We are very conscious of maintaining costs at the lowest possible levels that allow us to effectively fulfill the components of the mission – while simultaneously avoiding fee increases. Elements of our administrative infrastructure will be reconfigured to look for opportunities for improved efficiency and improved customer service. 

“It has been several years since we distributed a communications survey. We use this tool to assess preferences for how the ABR can keep individuals (candidates and diplomates) informed regarding their progress through initial certification or continuing certification. The challenge for us is striking the balance between adequate communication without over-burdening busy professionals who suffer from information overload. This survey is in the final stages of development and is planned for early 2022. 

“The impact of COVID on many of our candidates and diplomates, and their families, has been profound. As we turn the corner on the mechanics of remote exam implementation, and look forward to a return to in-person discussions among the board and our external stakeholders, I hope to focus on strategic rather than tactical questions. Specifically, with either improving circumstances, an adjustment to the new normal, or both, I hope that the ABR can once again debate the important questions that remind us of the “why” (not merely the “how” and “what”) of professional improvement and board certification.”

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