MDS Subspecialty Certification FAQs

MDS Subspecialty Certification 
Frequently Asked Questions

Exam Eligibility
Exam Administration

Exam Development
MDS Continuing Certification 
Qualifying Boards


Who is eligible to take the MDS Exam?
Candidates who wish to sit for the MDS Exam must:

1. Possess a current, valid, full and unrestricted license to practice medicine or osteopathy in at least one state or province within the United States or Canada;
2. Hold primary certification in general dermatology from ABD;
3. Be up to date in Maintenance of Certification (MOC) if certification by ABD is time-limited;
4. Demonstrate experience in the subspecialty by:
          successfully completing the ACGME-accredited MSDO fellowship
         attesting that you are currently performing micrographic surgery as part of your patient care activities.*             
              * during an initial five-year practice pathway eligibility period only

Must every candidate seeking the MDS subspecialty certification complete the ACGME-accredited fellowship in MSDO? 
No, for the initial five years, the ABD created a way for physicians who attest to performing micrographic surgery to attain the subspecialty certification without completing the ACGME-accredited fellowship in MSDO - this option is known as the practice pathway.

How long will the MDS Practice Pathway be available?
The practice pathway will be available during the first five years the exam is offered (2021-2025). This pathway allows candidates to self-attest that they meet the eligibility requirements for Mohs Surgery experience. The ABD retains the right to audit candidates for the MDS Exam to confirm their experience for eligibility. Starting in 2026, any ABD-certified dermatologist who wishes to become certified in MDS must have successfully completed an ACGME-accredited fellowship in MSDO to be eligible to apply for the MDS Exam.

Are candidates who earn initial general dermatology certification while the practice pathway is available also eligible to take the MDS Exam?
Yes, if they meet all requirements to sit for the MDS Exam, which includes being able to truthfully attest to active patient care in micrographic dermatologic surgery at the time of application. Based on the attestation requirement, diplomates newly certified in general dermatology in 2025 would not be eligible for the MDS Exam under the practice pathway.

Do I need to submit a case log, or any other documentation, to be approved to take the MDS Exam?
No. During the five -year practice pathway, exam candidates must attest to practicing micrographic surgery. Further documentation will not be requested on the application form; however, ABD retains the right to verify.

Can a candidate currently in fellowship training with a 'training' license (and without a currently valid, full and unrestricted license) apply to take MDS exam?
Candidates are permitted to apply for and take the MDS Exam with a training license. However, upon passing the exam the candidate will not receive a certificate until a currently valid, full and unrestricted license to practice medicine or osteopathy in the state or province of his or her residence in either the United States or Canada has been confirmed by the Board office. 

There are about a dozen diplomates of the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery who completed a fellowship in Micrographic Dermatologic Surgery and Cutaneous Oncology (MDSO) prior to the requirement that all incoming MSDO fellows successfully complete an ACGME-accredited dermatology program and qualify for certification by ABD.  Will these diplomates qualify for MDS certification by ABD?
Yes.  To accommodate the small number of diplomates from ABMS Member Boards who completed an MSDO fellowship prior to the change in fellow qualifications in the program requirements, the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery submitted a request to the ABMS to become Qualifying Boards for MDS subspecialty certification offered by the ABD.  That request was endorsed by ABD and approved by ABMS in October 2019. Because diplomates from those ABMS Member Boards are not certified by ABD in general dermatology, they will be required to pass an additional exam in clinical dermatology and dermatopathology, in addition the MDS certifying exam.  Please refer to the 'Qualifying Boards' section within these FAQs for more information. 


When will the first Micrographic Dermatologic Surgery (MDS) Exam be administered?
ABD diplomates’ first opportunity to take the exam to become a board-certified Micrographic Dermatologic surgeon is October 4-8, 2021. 

How often will the MDS Exam be administered?
The MDS Exam will be administered annually. ABD diplomates’ first opportunity to take the MDS Exam is October 4-8, 2021.

Where will the MDS Exam be administered? 
The MDS Exam will be administered at Pearson VUE testing centers nationwide. You can find the location nearest you by visiting the ABD page on Pearson VUE’s website.

Will the MDS Exam be offered via Remote Proctoring in my home or office? 
No. The MDS Exam will be administered exclusively at Pearson VUE testing centers.

What is the fee to take the MDS Exam? 
The MDS Exam fee will be $1800, which is consistent with the fees for our other subspecialty certification exams.  

How many questions will be on the MDS Exam?
The MDS Exam will consist of approximately 200 questions.

What is the pass rate for the MDS Exam?
There will be no pre-set pass rate for the MDS Exam given that it is “criterion-based,” meaning that it is possible that all candidates could pass the test if they perform at a certain level. For example, the ABD does not state that “candidates performing X standard deviations below the mean will fail,” which would be an alternative form of testing known as “normative-based” testing.

How many times can the MDS Exam be taken? 
The MDS Exam can be repeated annually during the five-year practice pathway, provided the candidate meets the exam eligibility requirements. After the five-year practice pathway, only those who have successfully completed an ACGME-accredited program will be able to take the examination. For graduates of ACGME-accredited fellowships, the window of eligibility will close five years after graduation from the program, or at the conclusion of the practice pathway, whichever is later.

Will candidates receive CME credit for passing the MDS Exam? 
Individuals who PASS the MDS Exam will automatically receive 60 hours of AMA PRA Category 1 CME credit. The ABD has contracted with the AMA to offer this credit in order to assist diplomates in fulfilling licensure and MOC requirements. After the ABD releases the exam results, the AMA will send passing candidates a certificate for this credit. 


Who will develop questions for the MDS Certifying Exam?
The volunteer members of the ABD Surgical Dermatology Content Development Committee will create the MDS Exam questions.

What is the ABD Surgical Dermatology Content Development Committee?
This committee devises the surgical dermatology content for all ABD exams. The committee consists of a nationally representative group of board-certified physician volunteers, with roles in both academic medicine and private practice. A portion of the committee members are ABD Directors, but the remaining members are non-Directors who typically serve three-year terms. Each year, committee members submit approximately 20 questions, in accordance with a detailed topic-driven item writing assignment. All items go through a committee-wide blind review process to confirm the appropriateness of the content area, clarity of the item and the validity of the correct response. Following that, the committee convenes for a two-day, in-person meeting to review, discuss and edit all questions submitted by the committee. This rigorous review process ensures consensus support for the content being tested.

Who serves on the ABD’s Surgical Dermatology Content Development Committee?
The 2021 members of the committee include:

Carl V. Washington, Chair
Allison Vidimos, Vice Chair
Chris Bichakjian

Non-Director Item Writers
Jerry Brewer
Cindy Firkins Smith 
Alex Miller
Kishwer Nehal 
Christie Travelute
Siegrid Yu
Nathalie Zeitouni 

What resources are available to help me prepare for the MDS Exam?
The MDS Exam Study Guide is available to help candidates prepare for the exam. It provides an overview of the knowledge and skills obtained through fellowship training in micrographic dermatologic surgery. The Study Guide may be updated periodically during the exam development process.

Is every subject on the exam included in the MDS Exam Study Guide?
Although an effort has been made to cover the content that may be on the exam, there is no guarantee that every subject on the exam will have been included in the Study Guide. On an ongoing basis, ABD and the Content Development Committee will update the Study Guide to reflect the exam to the best of its ability.


Will a subspecialty certificate in MDS be time-limited?
Yes, candidates who pass the MDS Exam will be granted time-limited subspecialty certification in MDS.

After passing the MDS Exam, will general dermatology non-time-limited ("lifetime") certificate holders need to participate in continuing certification (MOC)? 
Individuals who hold non-time-limited certificates in dermatology and become certified in MDS will continue to have non-time-limited certification in general dermatology, but will have a time-limited certification in MDS. Maintaining certification in MDS requires participating in continuing certification (MOC) for the subspecialty only; the MOC Exam module in General Dermatology is not required to maintain the MDS certificate.

If I have time-limited certification in General Dermatology, as well as subspecialty certification in MDS, do I have to participate in TWO continuing certification (MOC) programs?
No. Subspecialty continuing certification (MOC) will be linked to the primary certificate’s continuing certification (MOC) in general dermatology.  Credit for CME, Self-Assessment and Practice Improvement will count for both programs. When you take the exam, or participate in the CertLink longitudinal assessment program, you will be required to complete an extra module of MDS test questions, in addition to the standard Surgical Dermatology elective module. Diplomates with time-limited primary certification in Dermatology will also be required to complete the General Dermatology module.


Will the MDS Exam be open to candidates from other ABMS member boards?Yes. The ABD worked with the ABMS to allow the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) and the American Board of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (ABOHNS) to be Qualifying Boards for MDS. Diplomates of those boards who meet specific qualifications, which includes completing a Mohs fellowship while under American College of Mohs Surgery oversight, may be candidates for the ABD’s MDS Exam.

Will candidates certified by the Qualifying Boards (ABPS and ABOHNS) take the same exam as the ABD certified candidates?
Yes, the same exam will be administered to all candidates. However, those diplomates from ABPS and ABOHNS will take an additional module: Dermatologic Surgery Clinical-Pathologic Correlation (DSCPC). 

Is a Study Guide available for the Dermatologic Surgery Clinical-Pathologic Correlation (DSCPC) module?
Yes, the ABD prepared a Study Guide for MDS candidates from Qualifying Boards. The content listed within is an overview of MDS-relevant knowledge and skills that are part of standard training during dermatology residency.

Are sample questions available from the Dermatologic Surgery Clinical-Pathologic Correlation (DSCPC) module?
Yes, the ABD prepared a Sample Item Set, consisting of 4 questions, for MDS candidates from Qualifying Boards. 

Will there be an additional exam fee for diplomates from ABPS and ABOHNS, to cover the additional module? 

Yes. Those candidates will pay an additional fee of $900, for a total of $2700.

Will the Dermatologic Surgery Clinical-Pathologic Correlation (DSCPC) module be scored separately?
Yes. Candidates certified by ABPS or ABOHNS must pass both the MDS module and the DSCPC module to gain certification.  

If a candidate is unsuccessful on one of the two modules, will both modules need to be re-taken in order to achieve a passing score? 
No. The candidate only needs to re-take the module he/she did not pass and will not be considered certified until passing both modules.

What is the exam fee if a candidate needs to re-take a module?
Candidates re-taking the exam will repay the original examination fee: $1800 for the MDS module and/or $900 for the DSCPC module.

Will diplomates of ABPS and ABOHNS need to participate in a separate continuing certification (MOC) process for ABD?
Diplomates from ABPS and ABOHNS who earn MDS Subspecialty Certification must maintain that certificate by participating in their primary Board's continuing certification (MOC) program, even if their primary certification from ABPS or ABOHNS is non-time limited (lifetime). Additionally, diplomates from ABPS and ABOHNS must also participate in the ABD's CertLink longitudinal assessment program by answering 12 MDS questions annually (plus clone questions, as needed). CertLink questions are delivered in quarterly segments. CertLink participation for MDS questions is the only ABD-specific continuing certification (MOC) requirement for diplomates from ABPS and ABOHNS. 

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