The Virtual Oral Exam: ABEM Pivots During the Pandemic to Help Physicians Achieve Certification

Dec 15, 2021

The pandemic forced the postponement of all American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) examinations, including the Oral Certification Exam. Because that exam is the final step in the process for becoming ABEM certified, many physicians had to wait longer than usual. This caused delays for over 4,700 early-career physicians, some of whom had to wait an additional year to become certified. The Board of Directors responded by making the certification of early career physicians its top priority.

Some of the actions ABEM took to help physicians become certified were:

  • Modifying its traditional “single” cases so that they could be administered online
  • Creating a new type of case, the Structured Interview, to assess a candidate’s thought processes, especially about why certain actions are taken, how a differential and final diagnoses are developed, and how the care of the patient is transitioned
  • Holding, recording, and posting instructional webinars for candidates and program directors about the new process and case type
  • Training a record number of new examiners to deliver the Oral Exam

A major necessity was finding a platform on which to deliver the exam. It needed to be secure, reliable, and have sufficient bandwidth to simultaneously handle hundreds of participants simultaneously, and the ability to record each exam session. A modified Zoom application was ultimately chosen, with a sophisticated media company—Markey’s—selected to provide security and security and infrastructure support, including a novel event platform, Bizzabo. In the words of Immediate-Past-President Mary Nan S. Mallory, M.D., M.B.A., “This is no usual Zoom meeting. This is Zoom on steroids.” Examiners, directors, and staff were trained on how to administer the exams within a virtual environment. Candidates were provided personalized technological checks prior to their exams to ensure a seamless exam experience and mange any technical difficulties before exam day.

By the numbers:

  • 8 exam administrations were held over a 13-month period
  • Approximately 4,760 physicians took the exam.
  • 430 volunteer, clinically active physician examiners participated, many over several administrations
    • Over 11,600 hours, or 290 weeks, or over 5.5 FTEs of time were spent by examiners on training and administrating the exam
    • Over 33,360 cases were administered
  • All ABEM physician directors and staff took part in the administrations
  • Every physician who was eligible to take the Oral Exam was offered a seat to take the exam

ABEM heard from candidates who wondered why the cost of the exam remained the same, even though it was being administered remotely. While ABEM didn’t have to transport and house examiners and staff in a central location, the production costs of the Oral Exam (new platform technology, exam recording, back-up systems, and security) are high. ABEM continues to prioritize and develop strategies to keep fees the same or relatively low for early-career physicians.

What do future Oral Exam candidates need to know?

  • Physicians taking the Oral Exam will continue to take the exam virtually in 2022. This allows scheduling flexibility and cost and time savings for candidates.
  • ABEM will contact candidates when seats are available.
  • Candidates will be provided an exam day packet of essential information that includes materials to help prepare for the exam and to use on exam day.
  • A personalized technological check will be scheduled in the days leading up to your virtual Oral Exam. The technological check should be performed on the same device that will be used to take the exam in order to work out any technical difficulties before exam day.
  • ABEM is here to help ensure candidates have the opportunity to become certified. Questions can be addressed to oralcertification@abem.org
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For media and news-related inquires, contact the ABEM Communications Team via email, or 517-332-4800. 

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