Board Certified Through Cheating?

Board Certified Through Cheating?

Recent stories about cheating on medical board examinations should be taken very seriously and not just by the medical community.

Those of us involved in New York medical malpractice law know all too well how medical treatments can go wrong.

Patients rely on indicators of knowledge and professional achievement, such as board certification, when choosing doctors and making medical decisions.

Being board certified is an almost essential step to obtain hospital privileges.

But what happens when those credentials are not arrived at honestly?

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Board Certifications Are Rife With Cheating in Some Circles

In a previous post I discussed how New York, like most states, do not require a doctor to disclose the specialties in which he or she is board certified—a dangerous and misleading policy.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t end there.

It turns out that these board certifications, a fundamental way to determine a doctor’s degree of competence in the field, are rife with cheating in some circles.

CNN story last month discussed doctors in the field of radiology cheating on their boards by memorizing test questions from “recalls.”

How Exactly Are They Cheating?

This is a sophisticated form of cheating where test takers rush to write out the questions of the exam immediately after taking it, creating a question bank for future test takers to use.

Medical residents around the country, including at some of the US’s most prestigious medical programs, ritually compile these “recalls” and pass them around.

The radiology board exam uses previous questions for 50 percent of each exam, making this a way to substantially increase your score with rote memorization, rather than application of knowledge.

This has apparently been going on for quite a long time, despite the requirement that test takers sign a document agreeing not to share exam information.

CNN obtained 15 years of past test questions and answers, some in Power Point format and readily available to residents.

In the wake of these disturbing revelations, the American Board of Medical Specialties, which oversees 24 medical specialties, issued a statement condemning the use of recalls in these board exams.

The Problem Is Not Just Confined to Radiology

It does not end there.

The problem is not confined to radiology.

This past Monday CNN released a follow up article on the use of recalls, this time called “airplane notes,” used in board exams in the field of dermatology.

Dermatology residents call them “airplane notes” because the questions would be written down on the airplane ride home after taking the exam.

These notes are just as pervasive, it seems, as in radiology, with one current dermatologist saying they were sometimes professionally bound at Kinko’s.

When confronted with this information, the Dermatology Board’s executive director, Dr. Antoinette Hood, stated that the practice is cheating and the board is taking every precaution to discourage it.

She said test takers have been warned that the practice is illegal, because the questions are copyrighted by the board.

Beyond that, however, it essentially violates the trust between the doctor and patients who expect their medical professional to been deemed competent based on honest and ethical behavior.

The Most Troubling Aspects of the Cheating Scandal

Perhaps the most troubling aspects of the cheating scandal are the questions it raises about the entire specialization and board certification process.

How are patients to know if their doctor is competent in the field and does not pose an increased risk of negligence?

What if their caregiver is still a resident doctor or lacking in experience, can patients feel confident in the ability of the young professional just out of school?

As an experienced New York medical malpractice attorney, I believe these are legitimate questions when the doctors themselves put so much weight on their status as “board certified.”

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