Survey of Residents Reveals Support, Suggestions for New Certification Pathway

By Julie V. Schaffer, M.D.*

Dermatology residents who graduated in 2021 were the first group to fully participate in the American Board of Dermatology’s new certification pathway. We asked the more than 500 new dermatologists who passed the APPLIED Exam and earned certification what they thought of the new pathway; 148 (27%) responded to the survey.

Asked about the content of the exams, approximately 130 respondents agreed that the CORE exams assessed knowledge in each of four key areas; and about the same number agreed that the APPLIED Exam assessed how well they could apply that knowledge.

We were delighted that the results were largely quite positive. We were also very appreciative of the suggestions that survey participants gave us for how to improve the pathway. This kind of information is what we seek most when we reach out to trainees and diplomates, and we are grateful to those of you who are willing to help us improve your Board’s activities.

New Practice Pathway Explained:

The new practice pathway includes a basic exam in the first year of residency. This exam is not required, but it gives residents a feel for their knowledge base early in specialty training.

During the second and third years of residency, candidates for certification must pass four CORE Exam modules, each of which measures whether the residents have acquired knowledge at a level appropriate for a practicing dermatologist. Each module covers one of four major clinical areas – medical, pediatric, surgical, and dermatopathology.

These four modules are taken either at a testing center or via remote proctor technology, in a private location of the candidate’s choosing. If a resident does not pass a CORE Exam module, he or she may take that module again without penalty.

Individuals who pass all four CORE Exam modules and complete residency training are eligible to take the APPLIED Exam. The APPLIED Exam assesses the ability to apply knowledge in clinical scenarios relevant to the practice of dermatology. The 8-hour APPLIED Exam is offered at test centers.

More than 97% of candidates who took the APPLIED Exam in July 2021 passed and earned their certification. More information on Certification Pathway pass rates and exams is available on our website.

Summary of the Survey Posted

A summary of the survey results is available on our website.

The ABD conducted this survey to learn more about the residents’ experience with the new pathway, and to discover ways we could improve. Among the things we learned:

  • The quality of online proctors varied considerably. (Note: we routinely share feedback with Pearson VUE and advocate for consistent and efficient remote proctoring experiences for our candidates.)
  • While the vast majority said being tested separately on the four CORE Exam content areas reduced exam-related stress, some said they felt like they were constantly studying for an exam. Others said that they acquired more knowledge of individual areas because they were assessed separately.
  • Some suggested the CORE Exams be offered more often, giving residents more flexibility of dates to be tested.
  • More than 120 responders said the experience in direct patient care was “hands down” the best preparation for the APPLIED Exam.
  • We learned that some people wanted more information about what to expect, especially on the APPLIED Exam, and more study guides.

To continue the discussion, the ABD will be holding town hall meetings with Program Directors and Program Administrators from all dermatology residency programs that wish to participate. We want to discuss the results of this survey and get their ideas and perspectives on what works and what can be improved about the new certification pathway. We hope to have significant engagement from these program leaders – the insights they can give us can help us continually evolve and improve the path to certification. 


*About the Author

Dr. Schaffer is the ABD Associate Executive Director for Exam Development. Also, she is a pediatric dermatologist in the Division of Pediatric Dermatology and Department of Pediatrics at the Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) in Hackensack, NJ. She is a professor of pediatrics at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine and director of the HUMC Pediatric Dermatology Fellowship.