This past week I sat for my third board review course in anticipation of my upcoming third EP board recertification. It was a well attended event of about 150-160 electrophysiologists, some from as far away as Alaska. That, I suppose, is one of the attractions of having this course in a city like Chicago: it's a major central airport hub and has plenty to see and do for those hearty and financially solvent enough to spend the evenings out at a nice restaurant or club. For me, a native of the Chicago area, I was lucky enough to stay in my own home and just had to brave the traffic and $35-a-day parking fees. Others from out of town bore a much larger expense in terms of lost days from work, hotel and transportation fees. The meeting was held at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel on 1 Wacker Drive in Chicago, just a few blocks from Michigan Avenue's shopping district downtown - not the cheapest hotel in Chicago, nor the most expensive. Perhaps it was held there for the comfort of the rooms, the size of the lecture hall, or a need to provide a central Chicago location, but given the amount of time we spent in the lecture room and the social life of most serious electrophysiologists I know, I wondered why it wasn't held somewhere less expensive. After all, cost remains a huge concern (if not overriding one) for doctors attending these courses.
The course began Thursday afternoon at 1pm and went until 8:30 pm Thursday, 7:45am-5:30 pm Friday and Saturday, and concluded Sunday with a rushed morning review of pacing principles from 07:45 am to 12:30pm. (Completing the course on time was critical for those who had to catch planes home on Sunday)
I paid the extra money for attending a maintenance of certification test session before the main session began to earn a few points. This clearly was not worth the extra money in my view, as it was just an extra Workshop that included a bunch of typical board-style questions with the answers in the back of the book. My recommendation would be to save your money and take the online versions that come with one's recertification fee. It just seemed to be another cash cow for the ABIM and HRS.
The course materials were printed, and the majority of doctors polled (75%) preferred their materials this way, despite the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS) clearly leaning to providing the material electronically on a thumb drive. They also offered (with a $1300 discount if you attended the session) the full lectures (with audio and slides) to members who wanted to cough up even more money so they could review the materials at another time. (I passed).
The main course was taught by established names in EP and the Heart Rhythm Society: Ken Ellenbogen, N.A. Mark Estes, David Haines, Fred Morady, William Stevenson, among others. These are guys that taught me, they've been doing it a while, and they're good at what they do. As such, the lectures were paired down to the essential principles and generally well-organized with good audiovisuals and sound, but were peppered the same pimp items that you'll still have to memorize despite our new era of Google. I suppose having these things pass your cortex once so the recognition of these syndromes might be realized in one's practice, but in this era of Google whether memorization is really necessary is another matter.
But did I learn anything? Okay, I have to admit I did. New things I learned included a few pearls about Early Repolarization Syndrome (and is probably fair game for boards), the genetics of plenty of obscure diseases, and about how many ways a doctor can get pimped on a cleverly written examination. Given these realizations, I hope my chances for passing my board certification were improved as a result of attending this course. We'll see.
It was kind of sad (yet psychologically affirming) to see Sonny Jackman, an icon of accessory pathway ablation and EP, in the audience with me. It was particularly entertaining when he had to hop up and explain a tracing to the audience on behalf of the lecturer (truly a highlight). But I also wondered why Dr. Jackman was there. Sadly, I knew the answer: he's no different than the rest of us now and understands that it won't be long before the bureaucratic machine called medicine will require passing an irrelavent test to practice medicine.
It was this last issue that was most relevant and prescient. Mark Estes (someone who has sat on the test-writing committee in the past) tried to explain how the ABIM decides how many recertifying doctors ultimately pass their examination. "This is a sensitive and unpopular issue for EPs in practice," he said quietly. You could see people agreeing. But as he explained how the ABIM determines how many recertifying EPs pass the recertification exam he admitted, "I really have no idea how they decide." He continued, "But when we look at the trend line for the percent passing from prior years, you can see that last year's percentage was down a bit." He then showed the trend line.
Think about that. No one has an idea what consitutes the criteria for a "passing" grade for recertification, yet here we are spending too much money on a process that has little to no proven patient care benefit in terms of quality care. This non-transparent scoring criteria adds to the problems with recertification in my view, since it would not be difficult to think that granting of a passing grade for re-certification could be used against certain subspecialites for any number of obscure reasons (eg., the desire to downsize the specialty, political differences, etc.) One only has to consider how the IRS was used against non-profit political organizations to get my paranoid drift in the era of medical cost conservation here. Perhaps this is a bit overdramatic, but it makes you wonder, doesn't it?
So I'm back in the salt mine of everyday practice now. Hopefully the course helped and will prove itself valuable for me in the future. Honestly, every effort was made to make the sessions tolerable and informative, I just wish I understood why the re-certifiers needed to be there. But I'm trying to cope with the reality of the times and I just hope the ABIM won't decide not to pass me for what I've said here.