Is there an association between sociodemographic factors and American Board of Surgery board examination passage rates?
In this study of 662 individuals, trainees of Hispanic ethnicity were more likely to not attempt either of the board examinations (qualifying and certifying examinations), and examinees who were married with children were more likely to fail the examinations. White examinees were more likely to pass the qualifying examination on the first attempt; white examinees, non-Hispanic ethnicity examinees, and single women compared with women with children during internship were more likely to pass the certifying examination on the first attempt.
In a national sample of trainees, we observed adverse impact based on sociodemographic factors on passing the board certification examinations that needs further exploration.
American Board of Surgery board certification requires passing both a written qualifying examination and an oral certifying examination. No studies have been conducted assessing the effect of sociodemographic variables on board passage rates.
To evaluate if trainee sociodemographic factors are associated with board passage rates.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This national and multi-institutional prospective observational cohort study of 1048 categorical general surgery trainees starting in 2007-2008 were surveyed. Data collection began in June 2007, follow-up was completed on December 31, 2016, and analysis began September 2018.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Survey responses were linked to American Board of Surgery board passage data.
Of 662 examinees who had complete survey and follow-up data, 443 (65%) were men and 459 (69%) were white, with an overall board passage rate of 87% (n = 578). In a multinomial regression model, trainees of Hispanic ethnicity were more likely to not attempt the examinations (vs passed both) than non-Hispanic trainees (odds ratio [OR], 4.7; 95% CI, 1.5-14). Compared with examinees who were married with children during internship, examinees who were married without children (OR, 0.3; 95% CI, 0.1-0.8) or were single (OR, 0.4; 95% CI, 0.2-0.9) were less likely to fail the examinations. Logistic regression showed white examinees compared with nonwhite examinees (black individuals, Asian individuals, and individuals of other races) (OR, 1.8; 95% CI, 1.03-3.0) and examinees who performed better on their first American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination (OR, 1.03; 95% CI, 1.02-1.05) were more likely to pass the qualifying examination on the first try. White examinees compared with nonwhite examinees (OR, 1.8; 95% CI, 1.1-2.8), non-Hispanic compared with Hispanic examinees (OR, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.2-4.7), and single women compared with women who were married with children during internship (OR, 10.3; 95% CI, 2.1-51) were more likely to pass the certifying examination on the first try.
Conclusions and Relevance
Resident race, ethnicity, sex, and family status at internship were observed to be associated with board passage rates. There are multiple possible explanations for these worrisome observations that need to be explored. Tracking demographics of trainees to help understand passage rates based on demographics will be important. The American Board of Surgery already has begun addressing the potential for unconscious bias among board examiners by increasing diversity and adding implicit bias training.
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Yeo HL, Dolan PT, Mao J, Sosa JA. Association of Demographic and Program Factors With American Board of Surgery Qualifying and Certifying Examinations Pass Rates. JAMA Surg. 2020;155(1):22–30. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2019.4081
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