A Fascinating Journey to the ABO Oral Exams


Pinar Aydin O'Dwyer, MD, PhD, is Professor of Ophthalmology and a Neuro-ophthalmologist in Ankara, Turkey. She is a member of the ICO Board of Trustees, a member of AOI, and Chair of the Turkish Board of Ophthalmology.

Oral examinations are a potential nightmare for examining bodies because of issues related to standardization and bias. Although "a valid and fair" process is key to a successful examination, “gold standards” are difficult to attain.

However, my experience as a guest observer at the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) Oral examination early this month in Chicago showed me that there are practical and sustainable solutions to conducting high standard oral examinations.

I was deeply impressed by the carefully planned procedures: validation of pre-prepared, clinically relevant questions by a panel of practicing clinicians; detailed examiner orientations; station visits during the examination by external observers; and a debriefing discussion with each panel of examiners after each half-day session. That all examiners displayed a standard demeanor, giving neither positive nor negative feed-back during the exam, but pleasantly and kindly creating a harmonious and non-stressful atmosphere for the candidates, promoted validation and fairness. It was almost as if examinees were reviewing cases with colleagues in their office, without the stress associated with a high stakes examination.

Yes, examinees had tablet computers! Indeed, this was one of the highlights of the experience for me. This innovative approach enabled the clinical questions (patient history, photographs, and, when appropriate, videos) to be administered via the tablets and monitored by the examiner. It also allowed scores to be given using standard click boxes and immediately uploaded into the ABO system. Tablets, clearly and brilliantly in my view, balanced security with speed over the whole process.

I think the cultural code for the ABO could be: "Quality certification of being a good ophthalmologist" and "We are supporting you." It was reassuring to observe that all examiners and staff shared and exhibited similar attitudes and principles; they were conspicuously hard-working, committed, and meticulous. It was like staging a perfect opera production; everyone knew her or his role by heart, it was well-rehearsed, and they performed extremely well!

Successful candidates will be proud of their achievement, and candidates who did not pass this time should feel that they had been judged fairly. This process serves and provides good eye care for society.

On its 101st anniversary, the ABO cuts a younger, more modern, and more visionary figure than ever. My experience at the ABO Oral Examination will enlighten our practices at the Turkish Board of Ophthalmology and the practices of other international societies with which I am associated.

Thank you, ABO!

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