• What is the ABO? Preparing for Oral Boards, Maintenance of Certification

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    The American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) is the organization that confers board certification to ophthalmologists, and the mission of the ABO is to serve the public. This is in contrast to the state and subspecialty societies, which primarily serve ophthalmologists through educational programming and advocacy. Board certification is designed to protect the public and ensure that certified individuals have the knowledge and experience to practice ophthalmology safely and effectively. 

    There are three steps to board certification: attestation from your residency program that you have met the minimum standard for practice and are surgically competent; passing the written qualifying examination (WQE); and passing the oral examination. By fulfilling these steps, the ABO is able to certify that you have the knowledge, skill and experience to practice ophthalmology safely and effectively. Certification is valid for 10 years.

    Preparing for Oral Boards

    Once you pass the written exam, you are on the path to preparing for the oral examination. The first preparatory step is registration, which can be completed through the candidate portal

    Once you know your test date, you will want to draft a study plan that culminates on test day. However, this study plan may look dissimilar from any that you have drafted before. That is because the oral examination is a case-based examination that is conducted virtually. The examination is administered by other practicing, board certified ophthalmologists who present a series of clinical vignettes and ask the examinee to discuss how they would care for each hypothetical patient. 

    With that in mind, your study plan may include reviewing the content outline (PDF), studying specific topics based on your existing fund of knowledge and practicing clinical scenarios in an oral format with a friend or colleague (using a virtual format for this practice may also be helpful). Fortunately, there are many resources available to help prepare for the oral board.

    As with other tests, avoid cramming in the days preceding the exam. The best preparation for the oral examination is active engagement in caring for patients during residency and/or fellowship, so you have already spent several years preparing for this examination. In the final days before the exam, be sure to review the requirements for professional dress, behavior and internet/device connectivity, all available at the ABO website

    Planning for Maintenance of Certification

    Once you pass the oral examination and become a diplomate of the board, you begin a program for career-long continued learning and self-improvement, referred to as “continuing certification.” Motivated by the mission of protecting the public, continuing certification helps to ensure ophthalmologists have current knowledge and skill. Through this process, you will likely renew your certification several times over the course of your practice lifetime. 

    Continuing medical education (CME) credits are among the requirements for continuing certification. As a young ophthalmologist just setting out from training, one of the single most valuable things you can do is rigorously keep track of CME activities that you engage in (this is easily accomplished through your American Academy of Ophthalmology online account). You will also need to maintain an active, unrestricted state medical license and participate in quarterly questions and practice improvement opportunities.  

    There are four components of continuing certification: medical licensure; continuing medical education (CME), self-assessment and patient safety; quarterly questions; and improvement in medical practice.

      1. Medical Licensure

        You will also need to maintain an active, unrestricted state medical license as part of Continuing Certification.

      2. Continuing Medical Education (CME), Self-Assessment and Patient Safety

        CME credits are among the requirements for continuing certification. As a young ophthalmologist just setting out from training, one of the single most valuable things you can do is rigorously keep track of CME activities that you engage in (this is easily accomplished through your Academy online account).

        Once per 10-year renewal cycle, you will also complete a patient safety activity. This is satisfied either through Quarterly Questions (below) specifically related to articles on patient safety or by participating in an online patient safety course. 

      3. Quarterly Questions

        Quarterly questions is the ABO’s online portal of on-demand questions related to general clinical knowledge and also certain journal articles. The required questions can be completed at any pace over the period of your renewal cycle; “quarterly” refers to the frequency at which new questions are released rather than to any kind of deadline. The platform is designed with the goal that you will complete 40 questions on at least five occaasions during your cycle.

      4. Improvement in Medical Practice

        Finally, you will select and complete two practice improvement activities. As with the patient safety activity, there is an option to do Quarterly Questions related to this area. Other options for satisfying this component include taking a designated online course through the Academy, creating a practice improvement project, or joining a qualifying project at your institution, if applicable. Although this may sound intimidating, the options are clearly delineated on the ABO website

    Summary

    The oral examination is the final step of the board certification process and quite possibly the final important examination of your training! You have worked hard to get to this point, and you will want to draft a study plan to guide you to the finish line. 

    Registration and additional resources about the exam are available at https://abop.org, as is information about maintaining certification throughout your practice lifetime. The ABO prides itself in being accessible and helpful to candidates, so reach out if you have questions or concerns. Good luck!

    Further Resources

    Sarah H. Van Tassel, MD About the author: Sarah H. Van Tassel, MD, is an ophthalmologist based in New York and the Academy young ophthalmologist liaison to the ABO.