News from the ABR

The Beam February 2021

February 2021 | Volume 14, Issue 1

A candidate taking the practice exam.
A candidate taking the practice exam. Photo courtesy of Frances Lazarow, MD.
From the Editor

New Year Getting Off to Active Start

by J. Anthony Seibert, PhD, ABR Governor


A new year begins! In this edition of The Beam, President Vince Mathews discusses several Board of Governors’ initiatives intended to strengthen the ABR and provide support for candidates and diplomates during the transition to remote exams, as well as improve Online Longitudinal Assessment (OLA) and Continuing Certification through feedback and bidirectional communication with stakeholders. Initiatives for 2021 include working toward inclusion and diversity of ABR volunteers and staff and enhanced accountability for costs.

Executive Director Brent Wagner provides an update on remote exam development and progress through a YouTube video that can be accessed here. The ABR has established a subscription-available YouTube channel that provides up-to-date information on recent developments of interest for candidates and diplomates. In a separate article, Brent and Vince describe the efforts of ABR senior staff and leadership to control costs now and in the future.

Click HERE to read more.


Board Initiatives to Strengthen ABR in 2021

by Vincent P. Mathews, MD, ABR President


As we begin the new year, the ABR is introducing a series of remote computer-based and oral exams that are a response to the unpredictability that resulted from the pandemic. The development and refinement of these exams is an ongoing process that is critical to allow our candidates to both adequately prepare for and complete the next steps toward board certification. We have received valuable input from stakeholder groups, including trainees, program directors, faculty, and department chairs, at regular intervals over the past year.

The remote exam solutions involve inherent compromises but have been designed with constant attention to the candidate experience while allowing confident scheduling without requiring travel. However, the exam models are extremely complicated and, in some ways, unprecedented in a high-stakes environment; the Board of Governors views the early phases of this transition as an iterative opportunity for the ABR to learn and improve the process. The fundamental goal of the exams remains the same: to recognize the skill and knowledge that characterize highly trained professionals in the radiologic sciences.

Click HERE to read more.


ABR Creates New Exam Platforms to Meet Needs of Stakeholders



Board, Staff Working Together to Control Expenses

Executive Director Brent Wagner, MD, MBA, and President Vincent P. Mathews, MDby Brent Wagner, MD, MBA, ABR Executive Director, and Vincent P. Mathews, MD, ABR President


Since March 2020, much of the ABR’s effort has been directed toward adjusting our exam delivery model to minimize health risks for our candidates. Specifically, the uncertain degree and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted modifications to mitigate the anxiety and delay of the multistep process toward board certification. In the first six months of this year, thousands of individuals will sit for remote exams, avoiding the cost, risk, and inconvenience of travel.

As the Board of Governors discussed these new exam tools, one of the perceived potential benefits was the intuitive opportunity to decrease costs and, by extension, reduce fees. However, there are persistent barriers to fee abatement at the time of this writing, including the absence of proven success of the new exam structure; a lack of dependable forecasts of the future steady state expense structure; the inherent long-term nature of established financial obligations related to exam center equipment and leases; and the unexpected short-term development costs of the virtual exam platform software.

Click HERE to read more.


Professionalism Is an Essential Element of Board Certification

by Cheri L. Canon, MD, ABR Governor


The Ethics and Professionalism Committee of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) has defined professionalism as “a belief system about how best to organize and deliver health care, which calls on group members to jointly declare (‘profess’) what the public and individual patients can expect regarding shared competency standards and ethical values, and to implement trustworthy means to ensure that all medical professionals live up to these promises.”1

At its core, the fundamental obligation of professionalism is that medical healthcare providers put the patient’s interests above their own. The ABR’s mission is focused on certification, and certification includes a public trust that is linked to behaviors that are implicit expectations of medical practice.

Click HERE to read more.


Examinees Provide Positive Feedback on First Remote Exam Administration

by Donald J. Flemming, MD, ABR Board of Trustees Chair


The Diagnostic Radiology Certifying Pilot Exam in January provided an opportunity for us to gain a real-life look at a computer-based remote administration with a limited group of candidates. It was the first time we had administered a remote computer-based exam and the experience was largely a success.

The pilot was taken by 161 candidates, all of whom were given the chance to respond to a post-exam survey. We appreciate the 127 who shared their opinions about the experience; we will use their feedback to improve our platforms and processes.

Click HERE to read more.


OLA Review Process Improved Through Diplomate Comments

by N. Reed Dunnick, MD, ABR Associate Executive Director for Diagnostic Radiology


Certification by an American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) Member Board is an important sign of quality. It is often used by patients to find a physician and may be required by healthcare providers. As a diplomate’s medical practice evolves, however, their remote board certification becomes less pertinent.

In 2019, the ABR began Online Longitudinal Assessment (OLA) for diagnostic radiology (DR), which allows diplomates to satisfy their knowledge assessment for Continuing Certification (Maintenance of Certification, MOC) by answering questions online throughout the year. Two items relevant to the diplomate’s selected practice profile are sent each week and are available to be answered for four weeks. At least 52 questions must be answered each year and as many as 10 can be declined. Almost 20,000 DR diplomates have participated in the program thus far.

Click HERE to read more.


IR/DR Remote Exams Are Underway

by Paul J. Rochon, MD, ABR Trustee


The ABR Board of Governors decided in July 2020 to switch to all remote exams. This was a difficult decision but necessary to maintain certification for candidates.

Executive Director Brent Wagner, MD, MBA, held more than a dozen stakeholder meetings involving all specialties to incorporate feedback on how the remote platform should be structured. The ABR also received important feedback from a largely successful Diagnostic Radiology Certifying Pilot Exam administration held on January 9 that included 161 candidates. Extra exam administration dates were added this year to make up for those canceled because of COVID-19.

Click HERE to read more.


Medical Physics OLA Feature: Declining a Question

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 Online Longitudinal Assessment (OLA) program for medical physicists was initiated in January 2020. Feedback based on the first year’s experience has been overwhelmingly positive (see Early Experience with OLA Performance). As we transition into the second year of OLA, there remains confusion about some features. In this article, we hope to provide clarification about one such feature: the option to “decline” a question.

Medical physicists who serve on a discipline-specific OLA item-writing committee (Diagnostic Medical Physics [DMP], Nuclear Medical Physics [NMP], or Therapeutic Medical Physics [TMP]) are charged with developing questions that address medical physics concepts at the level of “walking-around knowledge” for that discipline. This is knowledge that a typical medical physicist would need in order to provide general clinical medical physics services without having to access reference texts or consult with a colleague. It is understood that some medical physicists specialize in their practices (e.g., supporting the clinical activities at a proton therapy center, engaged in MR imaging only, external beam practice without brachytherapy, etc.), but the vast majority provide services that span a broad scope of clinical practice. 

Click HERE to read more.


Radiation Oncology Remote Oral Exam Development

Paul E. Wallner, DO, ABR Associate Executive Director for Radiation Oncology; Brian J. Davis, MD, PhD, ABR Trustee; and Anthony Gerdeman, PhD, ABR Director of Exam Services

by Paul E. Wallner, DO, ABR Associate Executive Director for Radiation Oncology; Brian J. Davis, MD, PhD, ABR Trustee; and Anthony Gerdeman, PhD, ABR Director of Exam Services


From the 1970s through 2018, the certifying (oral) exams in radiation oncology were administered in a relatively similar manner each year. The Executive West Hotel in Louisville, which changed its name to the Crowne Plaza Louisville Airport Kentucky Expo Center, served as the site for the exam during nearly all of this period. With the move to Tucson in 2018, the venue was different, but exam administration proceeded as it had for decades. With the restrictions necessitated by the international COVID-19 pandemic, however, previous standard operating procedures became moot.

Immediately upon cancellation of the May 2020 certifying exams, the Board set aside dates in late July for rescheduled exam administrations. Public health and safety restrictions and institutional travel bans for volunteers and candidates soon made that plan untenable. Working alongside colleagues in interventional radiology/diagnostic radiology and medical physics, the Board launched an “all hands” initiative to develop a remote oral exam delivery platform for rollout in 2021. In the absence of completely acceptable commercial, off-the-shelf products, much of the development was carried out in-house by ABR IT and exam development staff, trustees, and an extraordinary group of motivated volunteers.

Click HERE to read more.


ABR Convenes Interventional Radiology Maintenance of Certification Advisory Committee

James B. Spies, MD, MPH

by James B. Spies, MD, MPH, ABR Associate Executive Director for Interventional Radiology


Recognizing the importance of broad input into the Continuing Certification (Maintenance of Certification, MOC) process within interventional radiology, the ABR has empaneled an IR MOC advisory committee.

Similar to advisory committees for diagnostic radiology and radiation oncology, this committee has a specific charge: to advise the ABR on all aspects of the MOC process and to make suggestions for improvement. While most diplomates interact primarily with Online Longitudinal Assessment (OLA) questions sent each week, MOC has four parts. The ABR asks its advisory committees to address all the parts, which  are:

Part 1: Professionalism and Professional Standing

Maintenance of a current, full, and unrestricted license to practice medicine in the United States, its territories, or Canada.

Click HERE to read more.


For Turkish Radiologist, Volunteering Provides Chance To Teach and Learn

by Rodney Campbell, ABR Communications Manager


As an immigrant from Turkey, Hatice Savas, MD, took a less-traditional path to ABR certification.

Educated at Istanbul University, Dr. Savas earned diagnostic radiology (DR) certification in her home country. After moving to the United States, she completed her training in cardiothoracic radiology, nuclear medicine and molecular imaging, and cardiothoracic and abdominal imaging at the University of Michigan.

An international medical graduate, Dr. Savas became certified in the United States in 2014 after passing ABR written and oral exams. Her long road has helped her better understand the challenges faced by candidates.

Click HERE to read more.


OLA Scores Well in Participant Survey


Online Longitudinal Assessment (OLA) has been around for two years, including an entire year when diplomates from all four specialties participated. With more than 3.4 million answers submitted, many participants say it has been an effective way of satisfying Part 3 of Continuing Certification (Maintenance of Certification, MOC). More than 6,000 diplomates participated in a recent survey in which OLA received an overall rating of 4.1 out of a possible 5 stars.

Many diplomates agreed that OLA serves as an effective learning tool, especially compared with the previous 10-year exam. In the survey, 72 percent of respondents said OLA positively impacts their clinical work and helps them identify knowledge gaps.

“I look forward to doing questions every week,” one diplomate said. “At least twice (in 2020), by some crazy coincidence, I have seen a case at work within days of having been presented a similar OLA question.”

Click HERE to read more.


Former ABR Board Member Ready for Challenge as RSNA President


Mary Mahoney, MDWhen Mary Mahoney, MD, discusses her plans for 2021 as the new Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) president, she says things are “up in the air.” Interestingly, that’s one place she won’t spend much time this year despite the organization’s global reach.

COVID-19, of course, is to blame. With in-person meetings shut down across the world, Dr. Mahoney and the organization are hoping for the best but prepared to be grounded for at least part of the year.

“It’s hard to make plans, as much as we see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Mahoney, who has no RSNA travel planned until July.

COVID or not, RSNA will hold its annual meeting as always after Thanksgiving. Last year’s meeting was virtual; Dr. Mahoney and RSNA leadership hope to split this fall’s event between in-person and remote. The theme, “Redefining Radiology,” reflects Dr. Mahoney’s attitude about the field in 2021 and beyond.

Click HERE to read more.

ABR Governor to Receive ACR Gold Medal


The American College of Radiology (ACR) Board of Chancellors has named ABR Governor Cheri L. Canon, MD, one of three 2021 Gold Medalists in recognition of extraordinary contributions to the field of radiology and outstanding service to the ACR. Dr. Canon is chair of radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. She previously served on the founding board of directors of the ACR Radiology Leadership Institute, the board of directors of the American Institute for Radiologic Pathology (AIRP), and the ACR Board of Chancellors as chair of the commission on education and vice president.

This year’s other recipients are Paul A. Larson, MD, a general radiologist and former member of the ACR Board of Chancellors, and Barry A. Siegel, MD, a professor of radiology and medicine at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University School of Medicine, with more than 40 years of leadership in the nuclear medicine community. Honorees will be recognized during the ACR Annual Meeting, to be held May 16-19.

February 2 Blog

Survey Respondents Give OLA 4.1 Rating

January 26 Blog

A Primer on Completing Annual MOC Attestations

January 19 Blog

Diplomate: OLA Provides Real-World Way of Learning

January 12 Blog

Diplomate: Trust the Science and Take the COVID-19 Vaccine

January 5 Blog

New RSNA President Optimistic Despite 2021 Uncertainty

December 29 Blog

User Comments Help Improve OLA Experience





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