By Stanley Miller, MD*
As of July 2022, almost 10,000 ABD diplomates are maintaining their certification by answering CertLink questions every quarter. If you are not already participating in this online longitudinal assessment, you can sign up in October and begin answering questions in January 2023. Newly certified diplomates are automatically enrolled and begin CertLink in July the year after passing the exam.
CertLink is a convenient tool to help us stay up to date with our profession’s best practices. The ABD’s website has many pages of FAQs and instructions about what CertLink is and how it works, but it can still seem overwhelming. If you have questions, please call or email us and staff members Laura Norton or Pamela Zuziak will respond. With a new quarter of CertLink starting July 7, we asked them what questions they receive most often. Here’s what they told us:
What is CertLink?
CertLink is an online assessment. You receive 13 questions every quarter and may answer all 13 in one sitting, at a time of your convenience, or over multiple sessions throughout the quarter. You have 10 minutes to answer each question and can use written or online resources while answering. You will find out immediately whether your answer is right, and you get an explanation (rationale) for the correct answer.
What happens if you get a question wrong?
If your answer is wrong, you will get another chance the following quarter, when, in addition to 13 new questions, you get the same question(s) you missed. If you answer correctly the second time, your incorrect answer will not be counted. Basically, you get credit for learning something new.
What if you need to take some time off?
We know life happens, and we have accommodations for that. Everyone can take one quarter off each calendar year. You just need to let us know before the end of the quarter. On your CertLink Dashboard, there is a button to click and elect that time off for a sabbatical:
Even if it’s the day before the quarter ends and you realize you won’t be able to get your questions done, you can elect time off. But only once a year. And if you change your mind before the end of the quarter and want to answer the questions, just click the “cancel time off” button that will appear on your dashboard after you elect time off.
If you need more time off – for military deployment or serious illness, for example – give us a call and we will work with you.
Why can’t you approve a sabbatical after the quarter ends?
The CertLink platform is provided to the ABD and several other medical specialty boards by The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). There are some aspects of the platform that are programmed into the system that we can’t control. If you miss an entire quarter without electing time off, you will get a zero. And while nobody likes to see a “goose egg” on their report, you will get those questions again the next quarter and you’ll get credit for every one you answer correctly. The missed quarter will still show up as a zero, but the important number is the score at the end of the year showing how many questions you have answered correctly.
How will you know if you are passing the CertLink assessment?
We are working with external psychometricians to set passing scores for dermatology CertLink. The scores will NOT be graded on a curve, but on the percentage of correct answers representing knowledge that dermatologists should have. The Modified Angoff Method is the psychometric tool used by the ABD to set a passing standard, which makes it possible for everyone to pass. We don’t yet have enough experience with CertLink to set a passing standard, but we expect it to be similar to the old 10-year exams which had a pass rate of about 95%.
Can I see how I’m doing compared to other dermatologists using CertLink?
Yes. Log on to your profile and you’ll be able to see how you stack up.
Why can’t I download or print out the journal articles the ABD bases four questions on each quarter?
We understand your frustration, but this is the current compromise the ABD was able to work out with journals that are provided by subscription only. Groundbreaking articles are included in CertLink to ensure dermatologists are aware of important updates and new best practices in dermatology and dermatology subspecialties. Not all diplomates have subscriptions to these journals and would have to purchase access to an article to download it. To circumvent this problem, these journals make them available to all of us on a limited basis -- you are able to read each article online and have it available while answering the questions.
Although we don’t have a “fix” for this issue yet, we are exploring the possibility of having a library of CertLink articles. Stay tuned.
Do I have to do any Continuing Certification activities besides CertLink?
CertLink provides you with exam, CME, and self-assessment credits. Self-assessment credits will be automatically downloaded to your Continuing Certification table each quarter.
Also, once every five years, you must complete a focused practice improvement project. The ABD has a bank of free projects that have been vetted and well-received, but there are other sources as well. If you have questions about a project, check with us.
(Log on to your portal to find the list of activities.)
Do I get CME credit for CertLink?
Yes! The AMA will grant one CME credit per CertLink article-based question scored, up to 12 credits per year. At the end of the year, the ABD will provide the AMA with the list of diplomates actively participating in CertLink along with their earnings. The AMA will issue CME credits.
What happens if my computer crashes or I have other technical problems in the middle of answering a question?
It’s always a good idea to make sure your internet connection is stable before beginning a question, but still, technical problems can occur. On your dashboard, you will see a menu item for “support.” Click on it to send an email asking for assistance.
Or you can email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (617) 910-6400 ext.6 during business hours (M-F 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. ET).
If a technical problem occurs while you are answering a question, we can reset that question as long as you send us a ticket before the end of the quarter.
If I have a subspecialty certification, do I have to do double the number of CertLink questions?
No - you will still get 13 new questions every quarter. However, of these 13, there will be more questions in your subspecialty, and some of the questions will be more in-depth.
Of the 52 questions general diplomates receive from CertLink every year, 24 are core (image-based) questions, 12 are concentration questions (you chose the areas of concentration each year), and 16 are article-based questions.
Subspecialists receive 12 core (image-based) questions each year and 24 concentration questions. Half of the concentration questions are at an appropriate level of complexity for the general dermatologist and half are at an appropriate level for the dermatology subspecialist.
All diplomates answer 16 questions based on 8 articles (2 questions per article). At the beginning of each year, you will be able to read any or all of the articles before you choose eight articles you will receive questions about that year.
Can I share my questions with my colleagues or trainees?
No. Sharing your CertLink experience with colleagues or anyone else is a violation of the CertLink honor code, which says, in part, I agree not to retain, copy, disclose, discuss, share, reveal, or distribute any part of these questions, including memorized, reconstructed and recalled items.
CertLink is both formative and summative. Sharing CertLink questions – or even topics that are covered – with anyone could significantly undermine the security and validity of CertLink as an assessment tool. You may use resources – online or on paper – while answering questions. But do not discuss the questions, topics, rationale, or answers with anyone.
When will I be required to start CertLink?
To find out when you need to enroll, visit My CertLink Enrollment Timeline (make sure you are logged onto your ABD profile).
In general, if you passed your MOC Exam in 2018 or earlier, you should sign up this coming October to begin taking questions in January 2023. (If you do not sign up, you will be automatically enrolled.)
If you passed the MOC Exam in 2019 or later, you must start participating in CertLink by January 2026. We encourage you to sign up earlier, though. The final MOC Exam will be administered from September 1-October 31, 2022, and the deadline for signing up is July 15.
Diplomates who pass the APPLIED Exam each July are automatically enrolled in CertLink to start in July of the following year.
Where can I get more information?
Check out the CertLink FAQs on the ABD website. There are also four CertLink Instructional Videos on different topics. And of course, contact us if you have any questions.
*About the Author
Dr. Miller is the ABD Associate Executive Director for Continuing Certification. He has been in private practice in Towson, MD, since 2002. Previously, he spent 10 years as a full-time faculty member at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His experiences in both academic medicine and private practice have prepared him to lead the ABD’s continuing certification program. During the nine years he served on the ABD board of directors (plus two additional years as a CertLink consultant), he led the development of the CertLink platform.