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New Limits on ABS Exam Admissibility

Sept. 26, 2012 Media Contact: Christine Shiffer, 215-568-4000 ext. 137

New seven-year limit following training to achieve initial certification

  • The American Board of Surgery, the national certifying body for general surgeons and related specialists, announces changes to its admissibility requirements for initial certification in general surgery and vascular surgery.
  • In January 2012, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) instituted a new policy for all 24 ABMS specialty boards that limits the period an individual may be eligible for initial board certification to no more than seven years following completion of training in the specialty. To comply with the new ABMS requirements, the ABS has established the policy outlined below.
  • This new policy will apply to individuals who complete their residency training in general surgery or vascular surgery in the 2012-2013 academic year and thereafter. Individuals who completed their training prior to this period will continue their certification process under the ABS' previous policies.

New Admissibility Policy

  • The new policy is as follows:
    • Individuals will have no more than seven academic years (July 1-June 30) following completion of residency training in general surgery or vascular surgery to complete the certification process in that specialty. The seven-year period starts immediately upon completion of residency, not when an individual's application is approved. If individuals delay in applying for certification, they will lose examination opportunities.
    • Up to four opportunities within four consecutive years will be given to pass the Qualifying Examination (QE). If a candidate decides not to take the exam in a given year, it is a lost opportunity as the four-year limit is absolute. After four years, if the Qualifying Examination is not passed, the candidate is no longer admissible to the certification process.
    • Up to three opportunities within three consecutive years will be given to pass the Certifying Examination (CE), immediately following successfuly completion of the QE. Candidates will only be permitted one exam opportunity per year. If a candidate decides not to take the exam in a given year, it is a lost opportunity as the three-year limit is absolute. After three years, if the Certifying Examination is not passed, the candidate is no longer admissible to the certification process.
    • After seven years, if the candidate has not passed both the Qualifying Examination and the Certifying Examination, they are no longer eligible for certification and must pursue a readmissibility pathway in their specialty to regain admissibility.
    • Candidates who successfully complete the Qualifying Examination in fewer than four opportunities cannot apply unused opportunities toward the Certifying Examination. The three-year period for the CE follows immediately after successful completion of the QE.
  • In forming this policy, the ABS reviewed its past Exam Pass Rates and determined that permitting four opportunities in four years for the QE and three opportunities in three years for the CE would give candidates the most favorable conditions for becoming certified. Thus it is anticipated these changes will have minimal impact on the majority of individuals pursuing ABS certification.
  • This policy currently applies only to the two specialties in which the ABS issues primary certificates: general surgery and vascular surgery. It does not apply to ABS certification in pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, surgery of the hand, or hospice and palliative medicine—the admissibility requirements for those specialties are unchanged. The ABS' policy regarding extensions for active military duty also remains in effect.

Additional Notes

  • For certification in vascular surgery, this new policy applies to graduates of independent vascular surgery training programs, as well as graduates of integrated vascular surgery residency programs.
  • The ABS' previous requirements that an individual must apply for the General Surgery Qualifying Examination within three years of completing residency and must take the exam within two years of application approval do not apply to this new policy.
About the ABS

The American Board of Surgery is an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1937 for the purpose of certifying individuals who have met a defined standard of education, training and knowledge in the field of surgery. Surgeons certified by the ABS, known as diplomates, have completed at least five years of surgical training following medical school and successfully completed a written and oral examination process administered by the ABS. They must then maintain their certification through ongoing learning and practice improvement activities. The ABS offers board certification in general surgery, vascular surgery, pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, surgery of the hand, hospice and palliative medicine, and complex general surgical oncology. It is one of the 24 member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties.

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