A Strong Start for a Promising Future

By Randall K. Roenigk*

When I became Executive Director of your American Board of Dermatology six months ago, I promised to make the ABD more transparent. My goal was to let you know what your board was up to, and to increase opportunities to listen to you. Knowing your needs – and pain points – helps us understand how the ABD can evolve to better support you and, by extension, your patients.

We had an excellent starting place. We are privileged to build upon the progressive changes made by Dr. Thomas Horn and his team over the past decade. Their work, which included developing and launching CertLink® and the new Pathway to Certification, has transformed initial and continuing certification. Our goal is to keep improving these new programs with input from you.

So how are we doing so far?

First, I’m happy to report that you have an exceptionally cohesive Executive Leadership Team. We support each other as we strive to support you. We are all practicing dermatologists, and I am grateful for the time and expertise each one brings to the table:

I hope you have found value in the many innovations the ABD is pursuing, and that you have been enlightened by the Perspectives articles explaining those innovations. We appreciate the many diplomates who responded to us at feedback@abderm.org with comments and suggestions. Keep them coming! We will respond to your emails and keep the conversations going.

We are being more transparent with our operations. An ABD Policy Library is now available our website for diplomates, residents, programs and patients to reference. The ABD has achieved Platinum GuideStar status, the highest transparency rating for non-profit organizations that must publish their annual tax filing (Form 990

The ABD has expanded its Annual Report, broadened the audience, and published it on the website. You can find it in the Announcements section of our website. The report includes the number of dermatologists who took the each of the exams offered by the ABD, and the passing rate among first time test takers.

Two new exams were given for the first time in 2021.

The APPLIED Exam for initial certification was given in June. During residency, trainees must pass four CORE Exam modules that test their mastery of dermatology knowledge. Then, after they successfully complete residency, they sit for the APPLIED Exam, which tests their ability to use that knowledge in situations requiring judgement and understanding. I am proud to tell you that 97.6% of the 547 candidates who took this first APPLIED Exam passed and are now our certified colleagues.

The Micrographic Dermatologic Surgery (MDS) Subspecialty Exam was given in October. We have just released the results – of the 1,750 candidates who took the exam, 95% passed. This subspecialty exam will be given annually.

Some 6035 diplomates participated in CertLink this year. Another 779 signed up to begin receiving questions in January. All newly certified dermatologists will be automatically enrolled to begin receiving questions in July.

CertLink has become an overwhelmingly popular way of testing knowledge for Continuing Certification. In 2021, only 65 candidates took the traditional MOC exam. Your Board of Directors voted in November to discontinue the MOC exam after 2022. CertLink will be the sole option for assessment of knowledge after that time. If you haven’t already signed up, what are you waiting for? The next enrollment period will begin April 1. We are encouraging non-time limited (permanent) certificate holders to participate, too, for the life-long learning opportunity.

Within the next few years, summative assessments will be made using CertLink. The number of correct responses will be totaled and passing scores determined, using psychometric formulas similar to those used now to determine passing scores for initial certification in general dermatology and all subspecialties. (Look for a Perspective in 2022 explaining that process in detail.)

The ABD has made progress on a 2020 pledge to take positive steps to improve our diversity outreach. You already are seeing more images of skin of color on exams and in CertLink. We will continue expanding our image banks to help dermatologists better recognize the ways diseases and conditions present themselves on different skin tones.

We are grateful for the dedication of more than 70 dermatologists who volunteer to help the ABD write exam questions, participate in the scoring process, set policies, and/or develop new activities to support continuing certification. In particular, we would like to thank our Board of Directors President, Dr. Hensin Tsao, and Vice President, Dr. Edward Cowen, who are rotating off the board this year. We’d also like to recognize our new officers, Dr. Mary Stone, who will be President in 2022, and Dr. Julia R. Nunley, who will be Vice President.

One of the accomplishments of the Board of Directors this year was to clarify the ABD’s professionalism policy, including guidance for social media behavior. More details about this policy update, and about a process for reporting concerns, will be coming early in the new year.

Other things to look forward to:

The ABD website will feature a tool for looking up the certification status of dermatologists. (Currently, people have to go to the ABMS site for that information.) We will add this new feature in the first quarter of 2022, but before the year is out, we will enhance it to allow you to add details about your practice, including your address.

We are again planning to offer focused practice improvement projects. These continuing certification activities were quite popular a few years ago. Dr. Erik Stratman has agreed to work with the ABD to reinvigorate this activity.

Also, over the past two years, the ABD and other dermatology specialty organizations have worked with the American Board of Medical Specialties and hundreds of other physicians, organizations, patients, and representatives of the public to establish new standards for continuing certification. Those standards were published November 1. The ABD has been looking at our own programs, and currently we meet almost all the new ABMS standards. We will continue to review and evolve our continuing certification program to ensure compliance.

As we continue to work on your behalf to strengthen the ABD, we have embarked on a strategic planning process. While we are proud of how the ABD has transformed to stay relevant to modern medical practice and available technology, we believe in the wisdom of continuing to evolve and plan for the future.

Stay tuned. We will keep you in the loop and periodically reach out for your guidance.

Meanwhile, I wish you all the happiest of holidays and a bright, exciting new year.


*About the Author

Dr. Roenigk is Executive Director of the American Board of Dermatology. In addition, he is a consultant (fulltime faculty) and former chair of the Department of Dermatology and Division of Dermatologic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. A professor of dermatology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, he also holds the Robert H. Kieckhefer Professorship in Dermatology at the Mayo Foundation.