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Pathway into the ABS certification process for IMGs

Academic Pathway to ABS Certification for International Medical Graduates

  • An alternate pathway into the American Board of Surgery (ABS) certification process is available for truly exceptional academic surgeons who are International Medical Graduates (IMGs). Surgeons who trained internationally in non-Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) programs may be eligible. This pathway is intended for candidates who have and will contribute to the field of surgery through scholarship, education and research. ABS considers this situation extraordinary, and will approve or disallow entrance into this alternate pathway on a case-by-case basis. The chair of the Department of Surgery, the general surgery residency program director and, if applicable, the subspecialty surgery program director at the institution where the candidate holds a current full-time faculty appointment must propose the candidate.

Requirements for Application

Eligibility Requirements
  • At the time of application, you must provide evidence of the following:
    1. Possession of a current and unrestricted medical license in the United States for a minimum of seven (7) years.
    2. Completed medical training at an Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) recognized medical school and possession of an ECFMG certificate.
    3. Unrestricted clinical privileges at a licensed medical center certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
    4. A minimum of one (1) year of clinical postgraduate training in the USA/Canada at a program accredited by the ACGME and/or sponsoring specialty society.
    5. A minimum of five (5) continuous years at the current institution. Must be employed as a full-time teaching faculty member at a Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredited medical school and at an institution with an ACGME-accredited general surgery residency training program.
    6. Completion of an international, equivalently structured and accredited training program in surgery, in comparison to the current ACGME general surgery residency program, including a signed attestation by the Program Director and institution.
Required Documents
    1. Copies of United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Steps 1-3 Score Reports.
    2. Sponsorship letters from the chief of the medical staff, the chair of the Department of Surgery and the general surgery residency program director at that institution. Letters must document participation in local quality, patient safety, and outcomes programs.
    3. Documentation of board certification in surgery, by a national ABS-equivalent organization that is responsible for setting training and practice standards, in the country where general surgery training was completed. This will be reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis.
    4. Documentation of extraordinary scholarship and evidence for continued contributions, as well as recognition, in one or more of the following areas: (1) Research; (2) Education; (3) Clinical Care; (4) Program Development; or (5) Service.
    5. Three reference letters from peers at the nominating institution and three reference letters from referring physicians that attest to the applicant’s performance, ethics and professionalism.
    6. Current Curriculum Vitae signed by the applicant and chair of surgery of the nominating institution.

  • If original documents are in a language other than English, a notarized English translation must accompany them.
  • ABS will review all documents and letters of endorsement; if acceptable, the candidate will be approved to take the entrance examination to the certification process.

How to Apply

  • The application process will occur in two phases, with specific materials to be submitted either physically or electronically in each phase, as specified below. To keep track of your materials, a checklist is available here.
  • Phase One
  • We will begin to accept phase one application materials on Monday, July 20, 2020. Please do not send any materials prior to this date - they will not be reviewed. Items 1-3 must be submitted together via email to the ABS office (one email with all attachments). All letters for item 4 must be mailed to the ABS office together in one package. Please see below for mailing address information. All of these materials for phase one must be received by Oct. 7:
  1. Proof of continuous licensure for a seven-year period, including copies of license.
  2. Copies of United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Steps 1-3 Score Reports.
  3. Evidence of completed medical training at an Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) recognized medical school and possess an ECFMG certificate.
  4. Sponsorship letters from the chief of the medical staff, the chair of the Department of Surgery and the general surgery residency program director at that institution documenting participation in local quality, patient safety, and outcomes programs.
  • Sponsorship letters must be original letters and must each be sealed in individual envelopes with the referrer's signature across the sealed flap.
  • Please allow 4-6 weeks for processing of application materials. ABS will inform you when your materials are received and will follow up with a second communication after review of these items to let you know if you may submit the remaining materials for consideration.
  • Phase Two
  • If you meet the initial requirements for application, you may submit the remaining eight pieces of information along with a one-time nonrefundable administrative fee of $500, paid by check. Items 1-5 must be submitted together via email to the ABS office (one email with all attachments). Items 6-8 must be mailed to the ABS office together in one package. Please see below for mailing address information. All of these materials for phase two must be received by Dec. 1:
  1. Proof of unrestricted clinical privileges at a licensed medical center certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
  2. Proof of a minimum of one (1) year of clinical post graduate training in the USA/Canada at a program accredited by the ACGME and/or sponsoring specialty society.
  3. Proof of a minimum of five (5) continuous years at the current institution, employed as a full-time teaching faculty member at a Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredited medical school and an institution with an ACGME accredited general surgery residency training program.
  4. Documentation of board certification in surgery, by a national ABS-equivalent organization that is responsible for setting training and practice standards, in the country where completed general surgery training. This will be reviewed and approved on a case by case basis.
  5. Documentation of extraordinary scholarship and evidence for continued contributions, as well as recognition, in one or more of the following areas: Research, Education, Clinical Care, Program Development or Service.
  6. Documentation of completion of an equivalently structured and accredited training program in surgery in a foreign country, in comparison to the current ACGME general surgery residency program, including a signed attestation by the Program Director and institution.
  7. Three reference letters from peers at the nominating institution and three letters of reference from referring physicians that attest to the applicant’s performance, ethics and professionalism.
  8. Current Curriculum Vitae signed by the applicant and Chair of Surgery of the nominating institution.
  • Peer reference letters must be original letters and must each be sealed in individual envelopes with the referrer's signature across the sealed flap. Curriculum Vitae should be no longer than five pages.
  • Please allow 4-6 weeks for processing of application materials.

Admissibility

  • Applicants meeting these criteria will then be eligible to enter the ABS certification process and must remain in practice at the same institution/location while completing the certification examination process.
  • Upon application approval, the individual will be granted three opportunities within three years to pass an admissibility secure examination of approximately 175-200 multiple-choice questions relevant to general surgery practice.
  • Upon successful completion of the admissibility exam, the applicant will be admissible to the ABS Qualifying Examination (QE). Successful completion of the QE allows registration for the Certifying Exam (CE). Upon passing the CE, the individual will be deemed certified in surgery and will receive their official certificate within 6 months. They must thereafter participate in the ABS Continuous Certification Program to maintain their certificate.

Mailing Your Physical Materials

  • Phase one sponsorship letters and phase two documentation with signed attestation, reference letters, signed CV and check should be mailed to the following address:
  • Attn. Jessica Schreader
    ABS Academic Pathway to Certification
    1617 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Suite 860
    Philadelphia, PA 19103
  • Sponsors and referrers should address their letters to Jo Buyske, M.D., President and CEO of ABS. All sponsorship letters for phase one should be mailed in one package, and must be received by ABS no later than Oct. 7. All physical materials for phase two should also be mailed in one package, and must be received by Dec. 1. All other materials and documentation listed above should be emailed to internationalpath@absurgery.org.

Application Fees

There is no application fee for phase one of document submission. A one-time nonrefundable administrative fee of $500 is due with phase two of the application, paid by check and mailed with your physical materials.

Any additional fees will be line with current fee schedules for examinations. Fees for 2021 are as follows:

  • Admissibility Examination: $525
  • Qualifying Examination: $1400
  • Certifying Examination: $1500

Nondiscrimination

  • ABS retains the privilege of review and consideration of eligibility on a case by case basis, and allows appeals in the event of non-favorable decisions.
  • Please note that not all policies related to general surgery certification apply to this special pathway. For any questions related to the process or requirements for this pathway, please contact the ABS office.

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