This past November, I sat for the American Board of Plastic Surgery Oral Examination in Phoenix (Fig. 1, A and B), and I have been invited, using this article, to share some insights with future candidates in light of my recent experience. My overall impression was that the examination was challenging but fair. In stark contrast to my preconceived fears of being castigated by an inquisitional tribunal, my examiners all were courteous and respectful. I was instructed to speak to them as if we were colleagues discussing a patient's case. That being said, everyone's examination experience is different, depending on which examiners that person is assigned. Despite the disarming demeanor of my examiners, I returned home physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.
Careful preparation is essential to earning a passing grade on this examination. The more one knows about the format of the examination, the better one can prepare for it. Important information about the examination format, including detailed instructions on how to prepare the five cases selected from the collection period, can be found in the ABPS examination booklet. I strongly recommend reading and rereading the sections of this booklet that pertain to the oral examination.
The oral examination comprises three 45 minute sessions, each administered by two examiners. Two sessions are titled "Theory and Practice," in which the candidate is presented with six "unknown" case scenarios. Each scenario tests the candidate's ability to evaluate and manage a problem one might encounter in a plastic surgery practice. Immediately before entering the examination room, the candidate is given 10 minutes to review photos pertinent to the cases. During this time, the candidate can organize his or her thoughts, without the pressure of the examiners' presence. Topics for the "Theory and Practice" sessions may cover the entire spectrum of plastic surgery. Examples of testable material include facial trauma, facial rejuvenation, rhinoplasty, skin cancer, breast reconstruction, lower extremity reconstruction, burns, abdominal wall reconstruction, pressure sores, hand trauma, basic hand pathology, clefts, and other congenital abnormalities. Examinees are graded in four categories: diagnosis/planning, management/treatment, complications/outcomes, and clinical judgment/limitations.
The third section of the examination focuses on five cases selected from the candidate's collection period. This is essentially an open-book test, because the candidate is already aware of the material to be tested. One can reasonably predict potential questions after preparing and reviewing the cases in detail. In addition to the previously mentioned categories from "Theory and Practice," case reports are also graded on safety (which is double weighted), ethics, and preparation of the books themselves. Familiarity with the medical literature may assist the candidate in supporting his or her management of the cases. One should have as many qualified colleagues as possible review his or her books before the examination. Each person who reviewed mine invariably uncovered a new, previously unseen chink in my armor. I cannot stress enough the importance of mastering a comprehensive knowledge of one's own casebooks.
Fig. 1 A-B