The ABR and the Pinnacle of Flexibility

From ABR President Brent Wagner’s article, “ABR, Stakeholders Remaining Flexible During Uncertain Times,” in the May issue of the BEAM:

For the ABR, as it became clear that standard exam development activities would not be effective in the short term, staff and volunteer content experts quickly made adjustments: test assembly activities for upcoming exams were revised to use remote conferencing software. While this is often not optimal for the volunteers, the modification to the process promised to support continued success in exam creation that would be relevant and cost effective.

The real stakeholders here are the residents who should be taking a live-proctored test from the comfort of their home next month.

The volunteers who do the heavy lifting of test creation may have been given the flexibility to volunteer from home, but so far the ABR has been unwilling to “remain flexible” enough to do the right thing and make remote testing a reality like the American Board of Surgery recently successfully demonstrated. Even the NBME has temporarily canceled USMLE Step 2 CS with the understanding that nationwide travel is simply inappropriate for a healthcare-related examination involving scores of doctors for the foreseeable future.

Some financial considerations are almost certainly tied to this desperate need to have a live in-person exam that no one has ever wanted, but departing highly-compensated Executive Director Valerie Jackson said this in her departing missive:

Another big part of my life has been volunteering. Over the years, some of my friends have wondered why I would give so much of my time for no pay. The reward isn’t monetary; better than money for me was the sense of giving back, the ability to work with wonderful people who are now long-term friends, and having an impact on many facets of our profession.

I have no words. Total compensation in 2018? $834,567.

I did, however, like the final paragraph of incoming ABR President Robert Barr’s entry:

We still have work to do. We need to keep costs down, we need to ensure that testing is meaningful and accurate, and we need to improve the overall test experience for our candidates, among other challenges. We are working on all of these today. I hope you’ll give us a chance, and I welcome your suggestions and constructive feedback.

I would love nothing more than for the ABR to pivot and start making the correct operational and strategic decisions to succeed in those areas. The ACR recently made some suggestions.


R4 in limbo 05.31.20 Reply

With RSNA cancelled, what are your thoughts on the chances the ABR reschedules or cancels the already-rescheduled ABR Core Exam for this November? As a rising R4 (PGY-5), we already had our June 2020 boards cancelled and it is only adding to a pretty stressful time!

Thanks for your thoughts.

Ben 06.01.20 Reply

I think the odds of a cancellation/delay are pretty high. What the backup plan is remains to be seen. The current plan is just to push back to 2021.

Honestly I think if I were in this position I would plan to not take it in November. They’re not forcing you to take it on that date, and then you don’t have to waste your time preparing for a time point that won’t happen. In fact, if all programs/residents just informed the ABR that the November in person exam is dangerous and irresponsible and that they were delaying, it would be a moot point.

If they somehow decide to do the right thing and offer it remotely, they’re will be plenty of notice.

Ted 06.04.20 Reply

Way to predict the future, Ben. If it weren’t completely tone deaf of the current times, I’d say all candidates should go protest on the lawns of the ABR HQ, though I’m positive that would change nothing…

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