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Candidate Email 04-02-20

Dear Candidates,

Thank you for working with the ABO to improve the certification process.

What’s New
Last week, we invited you to participate in a survey to tell us your preferences about a substitute for the Oral Examination that was originally scheduled for two weeks ago in Phoenix. The survey was delivered by email on March 26 and closed at midnight on April 1. Of 647 registered candidates, 83% opened the survey and 423 unique, completed surveys were returned. An overwhelming majority, 79%, preferred that we offer the exam on-line or remotely before the end of 2020. Fifteen percent preferred the option of a traditional in-person exam later this year and only 6% opted for such an examination a year from now.

Based on these results and other considerations, the ABO has voted (unanimously) to move forward with converting the 2020 Oral Examination to a format that can be administered remotely/on-line by the end of this calendar year. We are referring to the assessment as the VOE20 (Virtual Oral Examination – 2020). As mentioned in my previous messages, such an assessment has not been done previously by any certifying board so the exercise will be a learning experience for us all. The technical, logistical, psychometric, and financial challenges are considerable but we are optimistic. We are especially grateful that nearly 90% of respondents indicated a willingness to participate in a pilot project to determine the feasibility of this approach.

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 VOE20 in 2020.
  • Paid examination fees will be credited to the next administration; there is no need to re-register.

What You Can Expect Next
After the technical details of delivering the VOE20 have been worked out, we plan to field-test a version with a small group of ABO volunteers including recently certified diplomates before launching a pilot project with limited number of candidates (probably 100 or less, with selection criteria – probably a lottery -- to be determined). Successful performance on the pilot would qualify for certification. Unsuccessful performance would not count against the candidate’s board eligibility period and the next attempt would not require a new registration fee. Once the pilot confirms feasibility, the VOE20 would be offered to all candidates who were registered for the Phoenix examination.

Approximately half of survey respondents reported spending 8-12 weeks studying for the examination, with another quarter indicating that 6-8 weeks had been devoted to preparation. Therefore, even if the VOE20 is ready for administration sooner than expected we would defer for at least 8 weeks to allow candidates to prepare.

We will continue to keep you apprised of progress and, again, thank you for your understanding, your patience, and your willingness to collaborate with the ABO. Board certification has always been done “by the profession, for the public” through the work of hundreds of dedicated volunteers. This is yet another example of the professionalism that has benefitted our specialty and our patients for more than a century.


George B. Bartley, MD
Chief Executive Officer