View the latest updates from the American Board of Ophthalmology COVID-19 Information Center.

Updates on Coronavirus and Rescheduling

Frequently Asked Questions

3/26/20:

Dear Candidates,

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the country and around the globe, my colleagues and I at the American Board of Ophthalmology hope that you and your loved ones are faring well. Particularly for those of you in fellowship training, we recognize that you may have been reassigned from ophthalmic duties to help care for patients infected with the corona virus or who have other general medical issues. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

WHAT’S NEW
We continue to explore options for providing you with a pathway to initial certification following the cancellation of last week’s planned Oral Examination in Phoenix. To help guide our planning, we would be grateful for your input through a brief survey to be completed no later than Wednesday, April 1.
 
In brief, we are working under the assumption that the vast majority of you would prefer to (1) obtain your certification as soon as possible and (2) would rather do so through some type of online or virtual exercise instead of traveling to a venue for an in-person examination. If that hypothesis is true, then we will continue to investigate ways to administer a substitute examination remotely. This would be a major undertaking because, as mentioned in my previous messages, an online oral examination is “uncharted territory” for any certifying board. Typically, transitioning from one examination format to another requires at least three years to address multiple testing standards but we recognize that the current situation is exceptional and will require much innovation.
 
If, however, we learn that our assumptions are incorrect, then we have more options and more time to address the consequences of COVID-19. Thank you for telling us what you think.

BEGIN THE SURVEY

WHAT’S STAYED THE SAME
* We are continuing to investigate options for administering the Oral Examination in various ways.
* The seven-year board eligibility window following graduation from residency will be extended by one year if you are unable to sit for the Oral Examination in 2020.
* Paid examination fees will be credited to the next administration; there is no need to re-register.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT NEXT
Each week, we will continue to update you on our progress and look forward to sharing the outcomes of this survey with you in a future email.

For more than a century, the ABO has accomplished its mission to serve the public and the profession through the volunteerism of thousands of practicing ophthalmologists – your colleagues. The current challenges provide a new and unprecedented opportunity to improve the certification process. We hope that many of you will elect to work with us now and in the future to do just that.

Respectfully,

George B. Bartley, MD
Chief Executive Officer


3/20/2020:

A couple of weeks ago, all of us anticipated that we would be in Phoenix today for the American Board of Ophthalmology examinations. The decision to postpone the examination, for the first time in the ABO’s 104-year history, has been disruptive for all but in retrospect would have been mandated regardless by forces beyond our control. Our goal now is to provide an expedient pathway to certification for everyone who has prepared diligently to achieve this professional milestone. To that end, we will provide a progress update every Friday, or more frequently as appropriate.

WHAT’S NEW
The ABO is committed to providing you with an assessment to complete your board certification in 2020.

  • We are aiming to reschedule the Oral Examination sometime this fall and will provide date and location details as soon as possible. Several variables are at play, including the availability of a suitable venue, the assumption that travel will be unrestricted, the need to avoid conflicts with other meetings and holidays, our ability to recruit a sufficient number of volunteers given that the practices of many ophthalmologists at present are limiting patient throughput or are closed, and the desire to provide enough lead time for candidates to adjust their personal and professional calendars.
  • Simultaneously, we are exploring other options to fulfill the purpose of the Oral Examination. Several candidates have asked why the examination cannot simply be given online, as is done with the Written Qualifying Examination. The ABO has been weighing the pros and cons of a “virtual Oral Exam” for several years. It is important to recognize that none of the 24 ABMS medical and surgical certifying boards has such an examination at present and sporadic forays into this realm by a few boards have not been encouraging. Also, at the time of this writing, testing centers such as Pearson Vue and Prometric are closed. Please be assured that the ABO is researching examination formats and technologies that would support the delivery of a reliable, valid assessment. We will keep you apprised as that work moves forward.

WHAT’S STAYED THE SAME

  • The seven-year board eligibility window following graduation from residency will be extended by one year if you are unable to sit for the Oral Examination in 2020.
  • Paid examination fees will be credited to the next administration; there is no need to re-register.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT NEXT
Having transitioned to a “virtual office” structure in 2018, the ABO staff is available and eager to respond to your questions, concerns, and suggestions. As always, we encourage you to use care to remain healthy and protect yourselves, your families, your colleagues, and your patients.

Thank you for your understanding and continued support.

Respectfully,
George B. Bartley, MD
Chief Executive Officer


3/13/2020:

At the close of a difficult week, we'd like to thank you for the empathy and professionalism you have shown in the name of protecting the health of the public. As you are aware, in the days since we made the announcement to postpone the Oral Examination, the COVID-19 situation officially became a pandemic, prompting cities across the country to ban large gatherings and major institutions to enact restrictions on travel.

We know that by this time next week, you had hoped to be on your way to completing board certification. But by suspending your travel and helping to contain the spread of the virus, you are embodying the values of patient-centered care and evidence-based medicine that will serve you well on your exam and throughout your career.

Going forward, it will be the ABO's primary objective to ensure that what you are experiencing now is a temporary detour, not a roadblock, on your path to certification.

Timetable for Rescheduling
Many of you are wondering when we will reschedule. For now, the answer remains uncertain. At least for the next few weeks, our way of life, and particularly our ability to travel in the United States, will be greatly affected by how quickly the spread of COVID-19 continues. Before we select new exam dates, we must be certain that health and travel issues are safely behind us. As options for rescheduling emerge, we will share them with you, with at least 8-12 weeks' notice so that you can coordinate your travel and study plans.

Travel Reimbursement
We recognize the financial investment you've made in your preparation and attendance for this exam. To help offset that cost, we will reimburse you up to $300 on the change or re-booking fee for your unused airline ticket. In the wake of COVID-19, most airlines have changed their policies, and while they may not offer you a refund, they will honor the dollar amount of your purchase for up to one year. Please contact your airline carrier to discuss your options and then email us a receipt showing the change or re-booking fee. With a valid receipt, we will reimburse you within 5-7 business days. If your airline is unwilling to allow you to use the value of your ticket in the future, your documentation for cancellation must state this in order to claim reimbursement from the ABO.

Technology & Virtual Examinations
Please know that as we move forward with rescheduling this examination, we are simultaneously exploring new and different ways of assessing the competencies in ophthalmology. While the logistics of this particular exam do not lend themselves to a virtual setting, in the future, we look forward to working with candidates to pilot new assessment methods to ensure they meet our rigorous standards for validity, reliability, and candidate experience.

Thank you for your understanding and support. As new information becomes available, we will share it with you via email and on our website.

For coronavirus-related resources, we encourage you to refer to the American Academy of Ophthalmology: https://www.aao.org/headline/alert-important-coronavirus-context.


3/9/2020:
Dear Candidates,
 
With regret, the American Board of Ophthalmology has decided to postpone its Oral Examination scheduled for March 19-21 in Phoenix. Several factors led to this decision.
 
Public Safety: For more than a century, the primary mission of the ABO has been to serve and protect the public. Although the actual risk of the COVID-19 outbreak is not known, bringing nearly 900 candidates, examiners, volunteers, and ABO staff together in close proximity carries a significant potential public health risk. In an ambiguous situation, the ABO believes that it is appropriate to err on the side of patient safety. Nearly all of us – candidates, examiners, volunteers, and ABO Directors  care for patients who are especially vulnerable to infections and their best interests must be paramount.
 
Travel Restrictions and Quarantines: During the past several days, multiple health care institutions have issued restrictions on domestic travel – restrictions that go beyond the Centers for Disease Control guidelines on which the ABO has been basing its approach to the Oral Examination. These travel restrictions prohibit many of our volunteer examiners from traveling to Phoenix to administer the examination (which, incidentally, they do at their own expense). Additionally, the ABO has learned that some institutions require physicians who have traveled to locales where COVID-19 infections have been diagnosed to self-quarantine for 14 days on return home.
 
Candidate Equity: The ABO strives to administer a fair, valid, and reliable examination to each candidate. We are unable to meet this goal if our cadre of examiners is insufficient to serve the number of candidates.
 
Where do we go from here? Recognizing that candidates have worked hard to prepare for this examination, the ABO hopes to reschedule the Oral Examination as soon as possible. All fees will be transferable to the next administration and each candidate’s Board Eligibility window (seven years following graduation from residency) will be extended accordingly. We believe that most airlines will allow a ticket to be rebooked without penalty. If not, however, the ABO will cover the change fee difference up to $300 with documentation.
 
This is an unprecedented event in the ABO’s 104-year history and we apologize for the inconvenience to our candidates, examiners, and volunteers. Thank you for your understanding.
 
Respectfully and on behalf of the American Board of Ophthalmology,
George B. Bartley, M.D.
Chief Executive Officer