‘Boards and Beyond’: Speakers provide tips on taking the certification exam and life afterward

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Thomas Horn, MD, executive director of the American Board of Dermatology, provides background on the dermatology certifying exam.

Residents face many challenges as they prepare for the next phase of their careers, and Saturday they were treated to words of wisdom related to many of those challenges, from preparing for board exams to choosing career paths, with an added dash of the difficulties of life balance thrown into the mix.

Opening “Boards and Beyond” (F055) was Thomas Horn, MD, executive director of the American Board of Dermatology, who filled in many of the blanks about the dermatology certifying exam, from the number of questions (144) and images (160) to breakdowns of questions (55 percent are clinical and 10 percent are basic science).

Arthur Sober, MD, professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, reviewed the Maintenance of Certification (MOC) process, stressing that it is voluntary, but that those who do not complete it can lose their certification.

Residents are automatically enrolled in MOC after being certified. Every 10 years, they need to pass a closed-book exam as well as other MOC modules. Residents also were reminded that they need to earn 25 hours of Category 1 CME credits annually, but that some states require more hours. For example, Massachusetts requires 50 hours of CME.

Michael Heffernan, MD, looked beyond the pressures of certification to talk about career opportunities after residency, saying, “Be open to the opportunities that come. You are high-achievers, super-competent individuals.”

After traveling several career paths, from serving in the U.S. Air Force to being an academic to working in research for a Fortune 500 company, Dr. Heffernan opened a practice in San Luis Obispo, California.

“My first advice when talking about career options is to find where your passions lie,”
he said. “Find opportunities in your everyday life to feed your passion, grow it, and evolve as a person.”

Opportunities lie within the AAD, which offers a leadership program, and connections with smaller groups with diverse focuses, such as subspecialties.

“The average American is going to have five to six jobs in a lifespan,” Dr. Heffernan said. “There is never a wrong time to change your path and explore new opportunities. You should always have an eye out for the next thing you want to be doing.”

Kavita Mariwalla, MD, steered residents into a different area, talking about different ways to be involved in the specialty after residency. She owns a practice in West Islip, New York, while also raising three children.

“Paths are not linear,” Dr. Mariwalla said, as she explained how she merges her busy career with her even busier personal life. She offered tips on how residents can build contacts through the AAD and begin to establish themselves as speakers at all types of professional meetings.

Finally, Nathanial Miletta, MD, the course director, closed the session with the topic most on the minds of residents — studying for the certification exam. He offered resources for studying as well as a timetable to follow, seeking personal support, and even how to prepare for the day of the test.

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