February 2021 newly announced tentative month for delayed Core Exam

ABR alludes to possibility of future virtual exam

Lobby at the ABR Exam Center in Tucson. Source: ABR

Saturday, June 6, 2020

In its latest email correspondence yesterday to R3 (PGY-4) resident physicians across the United States facing uncertainty in their delayed Initial Certification (Core) Examination, the American Board of Radiology (ABR) has now alluded to the possibility of a future virtual exam, while reiterating lack of current capability in remote examination:

Therefore, we hope to offer an administration in Chicago and Tucson in February 2021 in the event we do not have a virtual option.

The use of the word “hope” suggests the February 2021 date remains tentative. The mention of a possible future virtual option represents a substantial change from prior correspondence that had previously ruled out this possibility. The full text of this latest correspondence is included below.

See also: ABR postpones Core Exam to 2021

— Orbit Staff


Based on feedback received after the ABR’s announcement that we are canceling most of our exams for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to provide more information regarding the considerations that led to this decision. Restrictions on large gatherings in many locations, including Chicago, where we have our largest testing center, are very unlikely to be lifted before the fall. In addition, our staff had thoroughly investigated the logistics required to deliver an in-person exam, and our conclusion was that we could not guarantee the safety of our candidates , diplomates , and staff to the level required to proceed. Many continue to ask about giving our exams at local testing centers. We do offer some of our Radiation Oncology and Medical Physics Exams at Pearson VUE centers, and we still have some scheduled in December. Neither Pearson VUE nor Prometric has the technical capability to deliver our Diagnostic Radiology Exams and have not been interested in developing those capabilities when we have inquired repeatedly over several years. Currently, these centers are closed, and it is uncertain when and where they will open.

Others have asked why we can’t deliver a virtual exam. We are actively exploring alternatives and are collaborating with other ABMS boards to evaluate options. Currently , we have no reliable, secure option for a high-stakes exam such as the initial certifying exams that we deliver. We are aware that the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Ophthalmology have announced they will give virtual oral exams in 2020. Their exams are different than ours, and they have not validated the ability to use radiologic images in those exams. No board has developed a secure initial certification written exam virtual platform that would be needed to deliver our Diagnostic Radiology and Interventional Radiology Core and Certifying Exams . When the breast content on the core exam was not successfully delivered to all candidates in 2017, we devised a solution for individuals to take that content remotely rather than come back to the testing centers. During this administration , some candidates had technical problems that we were able to fix “on the fly,” which was possible because of the small number of candidates taking the short exam at any given time. That exam contained very limited content and, in fairness to the candidates, we removed some items that were potentially too subtle without the monitor display control we have in our testing centers. Fortunately, it worked for a session of less than an hour for a minority of our candidates; however, we are not confident that it would work for a 10-hour exam for more than 1,000 candidates. Because of the magnitude of the significance of our initial certification exams, we must ensure near complete reliability. As we have experienced on two occasions in the past few years, even a minor failure in the delivery of these exams is extremely disruptive to everyone involved.

To reiterate , we just don’t have a reliable platform to give our computerized or oral exams right now. We are exploring our options for each of our specific types of exams in our various specialties and, hopefully , we can find solutions in the coming months. Programs have been asking for a decision soon because they are creating their resident schedules for the next academic year; therefore, we decided to move ahead with our announcement. We know that it will be highly disruptive to have two years of residents taking the Diagnostic Radiology and Interventional Radiology/Diagnostic Radiology (IR/DR) Core Exam in June 2021. Therefore, we hope to offer an administration in Chicago and Tucson in February 2021 in the event we do not have a virtual option. We are finalizing the dates and will make an announcement as soon as possible. We will also engage program directors and others as we progress with any virtual solutions.

This is another unfortunate situation created by an unprecedented pandemic, and I hope you understand that this decision was not made lightly. We are fully aware of the disruption this causes for our candidates and their programs and desperately would have liked to have an acceptable solution sooner. We take responsibility for not engaging more stakeholders in the conversation leading to this decision , and we commit to doing better in this regard . Over the next two years of my service as ABR President , with the full support of the entire organization and Board, I will make this a priority. However, I do not think we would have arrived at a different outcome at this point in time.


Vincent P. Mathews, MD, FACR
ABR President

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