American Board of Surgerys First Virtual Certifying Exam a Huge Success

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – The first virtual certifying exam (CE) by the American Board of Surgery (ABS) was met with high marks from the general-surgery trainees who took it, with most preferring the virtual platform, according to a report from the ABS research committee.

And compared with past in-person CEs, there were no differences in pass rates, Dr. Herbert Chen of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and co-authors report in Annals of Surgery.

The ABS general-surgery CE was always an in-person oral examination. But the COVID-19 outbreak made that impossible. The ABS designed a virtual general surgery CE for use in 2020.

After two successful small pilots, the first large-scale virtual CE exam was administered in October 2020.

Of the 308 candidates who registered for the virtual CE, 306 completed the exam (99.4%) and 188 completed a survey on their experience (61.4%). Twenty-nine exam proctors also completed a survey about their experience.

The vast majority of examinees and examiners were satisfied or very satisfied with the virtual examination and felt that the virtual platform and check-in and security processes were very good to excellent.

“This level of satisfaction is an indicator of the promise of virtual platform to deliver the certifying examination,” they say.

“Interestingly, over 75% of examinees preferred taking the certifying examination in the virtual setting, whereas nearly the same proportion of examiners preferred the traditional in-person delivery model,” they report.

“It is clear from the responses that candidates considered the whole event to be less stressful. They particularly commented that they liked sleeping in their own beds and not having to travel,” the authors say.

There were no significant differences in exam pass rates between the virtual and in-person exams (82% vs. 85%).

Pass rates for virtual and in-person examinations were also comparable for both first-time and repeat examinee groups.

One potential disadvantage to the virtual exam is the loss of camaraderie and social support before and after the test for both candidates and faculty alike.

“This did not seem to outweigh the cited advantages, but it will be interesting to see if the social interactions will be missed over time since the virtual examination is still very new,” the authors say.

“While it is not possible to conclusively predict what format future examinations will take, it is clear that virtual testing has several advantages and is supported by a growing body of technological advances and platforms,” they write. “It is conceivable that a hybrid model for certification will take place, with the written examination remaining computer-based at testing centers and the oral examination transitioning to a virtual platform.”

“While there are some disadvantages for both examiners and test-takers, the benefits seem to be more prominent at this point, and as such, perfecting the technology, set up, environment, and exam delivery may be advisable for candidates, faculty, and Board organizations in order to master this new skill and improve exam delivery and performance,” they say.

SOURCE: Annals of Surgery, online June 24, 2021.

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