ABD Boards During COVID: What’s your plan of attack?

As recent dermatology residency graduates like myself are well aware, the landscape is set – we will be taking our boards in October.  Admittedly, when the ABD (American Board of Dermatology) inquired about when residents would like to take the exam, I responded – “July, please”. But as an entity that must look out for the interests of everyone while navigating the challenges of this pandemic, I think the change to October and a remote format was the right decision.

The new format will be completely computer-based, which is a major feat in and of itself.  But, we also have the advantage of being able to take it from the comfort of our own home.  Like many aspects of our lives, COVID has forced this test into the digital era as well.  Glass slides are out.  Plastic monitors are in.

This is all well and good, but what about this new timeline?  How will we balance our post-graduate lives with preparing for the boards?  I did what most would do, and asked some colleagues.  My questions were simple:

Board Exam QuestionsWhat is your life like right now? What are your barriers to board preparation? (You’ll probably have déjà vu reading their responses.)

Board Exam QuestionsWhen are you going to start your study plan? And what are the highlights? (Want to know their study plan? Read on!)

Board Exam QuestionsWhat resources are you using? (Scroll down for new ideas.)

What did I find out?

I asked 8 residents from around the country, each with different life and work scenarios, to tell me their plan of attack.

Some are starting a MOHS fellowship, a Dermatopathology fellowship, new jobs, etc. Many have children, some have working spouses, and most have recently moved.  One just had their first child – congrats!

Here are the pearls that they left me with:

1) Most have started their board prep already and are planning to “ramp-up” in September and October.  Let’s be honest, I imagine most of us are still learning every day with clinic, fellowship, reading, and the myriad of online symposiums and lectures.

2) All of these recent grads have already used board questions and will be doing more.  They are using Dermatologyinreview.com, Boardvitals.com, and AAD board prep plus Q-bank. On average, they are doing 25-50 questions per day and some are doing more on the weekend.

3) Most are using Review of Dermatology by Drs. Alikhan and Hocker. Some are attempting to get through it 1-2 times prior to the test to review what they have already read during residency.  Some are going through kodachromes from many of the major textbooks (think Bolognia, Andrew’s, du Vivier, Spitz, etc). By the way, make sure to check out the Derm In-Review Krazy Kodachromes video series led by Dr. Adam Friedman and hosted on Derm In-Review. You can access it here.

4) Dermatopathology studying seemed to vary. Some favored websites such as Pathpresenter.com, SagisDX.com, and KikoXP.com. Others are sticking to textbooks and notes from residency. Elston’s textbook was popular. Some like YouTube lectures from Dr. Jerad Gardner’s, Dr. Cockrell’s, and Dr. Elston’s.  The pearls in these are endless.  ASDP study sets were also mentioned as a great resource. And last but not least, Derm In-Review offers a dermpath study tool at no charge.

5) Most are getting this done in small bits when they have time during the day, in the evenings, or on the weekend.

So what are my two cents about all of this?

1) We have been studying for three years.  We just need to “live like a resident” for a few more months.

2) I am taking the test at a local Prometric – Got kids who aren’t in school or have trouble focusing at home? This might suit you as well.

3) Use what you knowand like.  If you used Alikhan during residency, it’s not a bad idea to go over that again. If you took notes, use those.  It’s probably not the time to re-read Bolognia, but maybe you liked a thinner version of another text.  If you didn’t like what you used during residency, take a look above and find something that works for you!

4) Practice like you play – You need to internally assess your weaknesses so you know where to invest your time.  To me, the best way to do this is by challenging yourself with questions. Shout out to Derm-In-Review, which offers you thousands of questions for free! AAD is 25 cents per question – give or take – but the quality and question style may be more “board-like”.

5) We aren’t in Kansas anymoreIt’s not a bad idea to use less glass and more digital slides to get comfortable with manipulating them. I, for one, like Pathpresenter high-yield cases for this.

6) Make a Schedule – One thing was clear about these residents (who are all high achievers) – they made a plan.  Think about what you want to accomplish to make you feel comfortable with the breadth of your knowledge.  It has to be attainable, specific and reasonable – but thorough.  Set a goal for each week and get after it.

7) Get started – Everybody else has.

Did you enjoy this article? Find more on Navigating Residency here.