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What is the ABOS?

By David F. Martin, MD

    • Industry Insights

While most orthopaedic surgeons are familiar with the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS), do you really know the organization?

The American Orthopaedic Association (AOA) was established in 1887 as the first formally organized body representing orthopaedic surgery. In 1931, the AOA designated two important committees that greatly impacted the field of orthopaedic surgery to this date. The first committee was tasked with creating a membership organization for orthopaedic surgeons, more broadly based than the AOA, which became the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). The second was to investigate the creation of an orthopaedic specialty board, consisting of representatives from the AOA, AAOS, and the American Medical Association (AMA). The ABOS was established in 1934 at the Palmer House, where the ABOS Oral Examinations are still given.

I invite you to learn more about the history of the ABOS, including watching this video.

While much has changed in the nearly 90 years since the founding of the ABOS, there is still a lot that has remained the same. Since the beginning, the Board’s mission has been to protect the public, both through certifying orthopaedic surgeons and by establishing education standards for orthopaedic residents. Unlike the AOA and AAOS, or even the AOSSM, the ABOS is not a membership organization; it is a certifying board.

Since its founding, volunteers have been instrumental in the work of the ABOS. There are currently 20 practicing orthopaedic surgeons who make up the ABOS Board of Directors, and they still come from nominations provided by the AOA, AAOS, and AMA. The AOSSM and the field of sports medicine are well represented. Three of the current Directors are practicing orthopaedic sports medicine surgeons who have treated athletes of all ages over their careers. In addition, while I serve in the role of Executive Director of the ABOS, I continue to spend one day every week as a practicing orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon at Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The ABOS has over 400 practicing orthopaedic surgeons who volunteer their time in various roles such as ABOS Oral Examiners and ABOS Question Writers. While many ABOS volunteers have been with the Board for years (some for decades), the ABOS is always looking for new volunteers, especially orthopaedic sports medicine surgeons. You can submit an ABOS Volunteer Application from your ABOS Dashboard.

The incredible dedication and hard work of these many volunteers has allowed the ABOS to keep a small staff in North Carolina as well as some key contractors located around the United States, most of whom have been working with the ABOS for years. Our staff works hard and is committed to serving ABOS Diplomates. Most ABOS Staff Members only leave the Board at their retirement; we have several staff members who have been with the ABOS for more than 20 years and most have been with the Board for at least five years.

While the staff is small in number, those few employees provide a personal connection to Diplomates. All orthopaedic surgeons have a dedicated ABOS Certification Specialist, based on the first letter of their last name. Anytime a Diplomate calls the ABOS during business hours, they are greeted in-person by an ABOS staff member, not a phone tree. Our Diplomates are busy, and we try to assist them as quickly as possible to get them back to the most important work—taking care of patients. We also come to you. You can find us at the AOSSM Annual Meeting as well as the Academy’s Annual Meeting. Our staff can answer questions about Maintenance of Certification, Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Subspecialty Certification, or any other ABOS-related item at those meetings. Please visit the ABOS Booth when you attend!

While many think of the ABOS starting with initial ABOS Board Certification, the ABOS is involved with surgeons early in their residency education. Since its founding, the ABOS has existed to 'serve the best interest of the public and medical profession by establishing education standards for orthopaedic residents.' While individual residency programs create their own curriculum, the ABOS stipulates how much time residents need to spend in various subspecialty areas. Before Candidates are approved to sit for the ABOS Part I Examination, their program directors must attest that they met the education standards set by the ABOS.

More than 80 orthopaedic residency programs are participating in the ABOS Knowledge, Skills, and Behavior (ABOS KSB) Program. As we wrote about in the last issue, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeon’s Orthopaedic In-Training Examination is now linked to the ABOS Part I Examination.

After completing a surgical case (or assisting in a surgical case), residents can use their cell phone to request immediate feedback on their surgical skills from the attending surgeon. The ABOS KSB program also measures the development of professional behavior in residents. Residents have their own Dashboard to view their progress, and Program Directors can also monitor how their residents are performing.

After passing the ABOS Part I Examination, which tests an orthopaedic surgeon’s knowledge, and being in practice for at least two years, surgeons then take the ABOS Part II Oral Examination which measures applied knowledge and evaluates surgical decision making and technical skills. After passing the Part II Oral Examination, surgeons become ABOS Board Certified for 10 years, entering the ongoing ABOS Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program. They are known as ABOS Diplomates once passing Part I and Part II.

Over the last several years, the ABOS has worked hard to make the MOC program more meaningful and less burdensome, while still making sure that the organization is protecting the public. The ABOS Web-Based Longitudinal Assessment Pathway continues to grow in popularity each year; more than 14,000 Diplomates participated in 2022. We have streamlined the application. We are working to redesign the ABOS Case List entry system and will introduce an easier method for CME/SAE submission in 2023.

As many of you are subspecialized in orthopaedic sports medicine, I highly recommend you consider earning ABOS Subspecialty Certification in Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. This designation is for ABOS Diplomates who have demonstrated qualifications in sports medicine beyond those expected of other orthopaedic surgeons by virtue of additional training and the requisite volume of orthopaedic sports medicine surgeries. About 2,700 ABOS Diplomates have ABOS Subspecialty Certification in Orthopaedic Sports Medicine.

Do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions that you may have about ABOS Programs.

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