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Dear members of the committee of ABOG Subspecialty Exams,

As the 2021 subspecialty certifying exam season approaches, the cohort of 2020 and 2021 board-eligible candidates would like to begin by expressing our gratitude for prioritizing the safety and health of our physicians, examinees, patients, and families in the decision to postpone the certifying oral exams for 2020. The ever-evolving pandemic climate has not been an easy one to navigate, and we recognize that accurate anticipation of the status of the pandemic and safety of travel has been quite difficult.

At this time, we feel we have earned a more clearly defined strategy for 2021 examinations. In-person examinations are unreasonable, as the number of Covid cases and associated deaths surge. In fact, many of our institutions will not even allow us to travel at that time. While we are relieved by the prospect of an impending vaccine release, as medical professionals we know that safety is directly correlated with “herd immunity” after the majority of a population has been immunized. We know that this will likely not happen until late 2021 or even 2022. Therefore, holding oral examinations in person in 2021 puts the health and lives of examiners and examinees alike at risk.

Given the significant stress, disruption and financial implications this has already caused, deferral of examinations beyond April 2021 is not an acceptable option.

We propose that the Board consider a strategy similar to that of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS), in which candidates submitted a case list that was reviewed by examiners. Candidates were then either passed, if sufficient, or a virtual oral examination was held if any red flags in the case list were noted. For many ABOG candidates, our thesis would also be reviewed.

For your reference, per ABOS:

“Examinees will be notified in December if they have met the requirements to become ABOS Board Certified or Recertified. If, through this process, the ABOS Board of Directors is unable to conclude that an Examinee has met the standards, then the Examinee will be able to participate in the 2021 ABOS Oral Examination with no additional Examination Fee.”

We feel that a virtual exam for all candidates is not an option we would accept, given the catastrophic security breach that occurred this summer for General Surgery oral exams, administered by the American Board of Surgery. Additionally, we note that ABOG allowed a virtual multiple-choice exam for specialty oral exams, scheduled just months before subspecialty exams.

As ABOG subspecialty candidates, we have completed 15 years of education and training. By definition, we have all passed specialty OBGYN oral examinations and subspecialty written exams. During this pandemic, some of us have been asked to practice medicine outside the scope of our subspecialty field, being called to the “front lines'' out of necessity. Some of us haven't seen our family in almost a year. Some of us have been exposed to Covid through direct patient care. For us, taking care of patients cannot be done exclusively from the safety of our homes. The emotional and mental toll that the Covid pandemic has taken on healthcare workers such as ourselves cannot be overstated.

By early 2021, all candidates eligible for 2021 subspecialty oral boards will have completed an application, paid the fees, and submitted theses and case lists for review.

We ask that the Board show compassion and pragmatism in allowing this substantial portfolio to serve as the final step in obtaining subspecialty board certification during this unprecedented time.

We thank you in advance for ensuring a competent OBGYN subspecialist workforce that continues to practice in accordance with the requirements of the Board, without risking the health and safety of ourselves and our community.

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