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Board Certification: Many Paths to One Important Destination

“The intrinsic path to success is to focus on being the person that you are, and put all of your energy and drive into being the best possible version of yourself.”  Paul Buchheit

The path to board certification is unique to each Diplomate while the destination is the same: a handshake from the president of the ABE, a lapel pin, and a certificate suitable for framing. Like many journeys, the path itself provides the greatest rewards. Through hard work and dedication, each board-certified endodontist demonstrates their comprehension of the biologic basis of endodontic disease and treatment; their technical skill and ability to document their care and outcomes; and their ability to assess and manage a patient’s medical status, diagnosis, treatment, endodontic pathosis, and evaluate the outcome of endodontic treatment. A path inspiring life-long learning for its traveler.

The rigors of board certification benefits our patients and is essential for the health of our specialty.  The AAE recently submitted documentation to the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards to ensure our continued recognition as a specialty. I am pleased to report the National Commission renewed the recognition of endodontics as a specialty. The AAE demonstrated a commitment to validating the knowledge base and clinical skills of endodontists through the process of Board certification. In fact, the practice of endodontics as a recognized specialty of the ADA is reliant upon individuals who achieve Board certification. In other words, if we did not have endodontists committed to board certification, we would not have a specialty.

This month’s message highlights the unique paths of two individuals who sought Board certification.

Dr. Anthony T. Borgia is the third oldest individual to become ABE Board-certified.

“The decision to become Board certified was a major one at the time in my career that I decided to pursue it. I was 65 years old, and the Dean of a major School of Dentistry, and the possibility of failure and embarrassment were constantly on my mind. I had taken the written Boards back in 1983, one year out of my program, but it was now 2015! Once the rule changed that all written exams would be acceptable no matter how long ago they were taken, I decided to go ahead and try.”

“There were two things that led me to finally take the plunge and submit my cases and sit for the oral board.  First, I always wanted to be Board certified, but private practice and running two offices made that task difficult. By 2010 I had transitioned to academics and found myself as Chairman of a Department of Endodontics with a post-graduate program. I was strongly encouraging all of my residents to become Board certified and then realized that I couldn’t ask them to do something I hadn’t done myself.  At the same time, a fellow faculty member in the department also decided to pursue certification after many years in practice, so I had a study partner and the encouragement to proceed.”

“I had the advantage of having four excellent, bright and motivated endodontic residents who were all in the process of preparing for their written boards, so studying with them made it easy for me!  … I’m proud to say that of the six residents I mentored, five became Board certified within two or three years after completing their program. I studied for about three months, nights, weekends and during school hours when I had the chance. Two of the residents helped me with case write ups and digitizing all my case radiographs. So my residents were MY mentors, along with my fellow faculty member.” 

“The most difficult thing in preparation was unlearning some of the things that had changed over the course of my career.  When I completed my endodontic program in 1982, there were no apex locators, no digital radiographs, no CBCTs and no rotary files among other things …There were many times I wanted to abandon the challenge, right up to the night before I sat for the orals, but through the encouragement and constant support of some very close friends (and late night and early morning phone calls), I convinced myself that being known as a Diplomate of the American Board of Endodontics was worth the risk!”

On the other end of the Board certification age spectrum, Dr. Sheena Howell was able to achieve Board certification within a year of completing her residency! She reminisces:

“It was important for me to become board certified because I wanted evidence of my education and training. Every medical specialty has a required board certification that must be passed prior to practicing. As an endodontist, I felt that the board certification process was equally as important, not to prove my knowledge, but to demonstrate to the community that I am qualified to provide a level of care and expertise that exceeds that of a general dentist.”

“I found that using the study guide found on the ABE website was a very helpful tool. … For every question on the study guide, I devised a concise written answer that included at least one reference. I memorized each of my answers and practiced reciting it out loud. I understood the concept of the topic and how to apply it to similar questions that may be asked during the verbal examination. It is very important to practice the answers out loud, not just in your head.”

“Studying for the oral boards was very time consuming. This is the number one reason I was determined to complete the process before I had kids and a full-time job. When I completed my residency, I was working three days per week and my schedule at work was much lighter than it is today. Now, six years after graduation, I am working full-time in a private endodontic office with a very busy schedule. I also have a 4.5-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son, and I am due with my third child (son) in August! Once life gets in the way, it is so hard to find the time and energy to focus on boards. I truly believe that everyone should make it a goal to complete their board certification as soon as possible.”

“I had wonderful faculty and residents, who completed the program a few years before me at UCSF to help me prepare. Drs. Ray Scott and Yasaman Ravandoust were excellent sources of information. Both helped review my cases and aided in my preparation for the oral examination. Also, I was so lucky to have met Saman Delgoui, who completed his endodontic residency at Rutgers University School of Dental Medicine. We studied together a few times per week. … Finding a team of people to help support you through the process is important to keep you motivated and focused.”

Drs. Borgia and Howell embarked on different paths to Board certification but shared common themes. They made the commitment to preparation, put in the hard work, sought out a mentor, and appreciated the encouragement of others. A mentor and support network, while not essential, can make a huge difference.  Each year I enjoy reading comments in The Diplomate from our newest diplomates. Like myself, many thank their mentors and family. I was not shy about asking for help along the way and am grateful for the constructive criticism and coaching from Craig Noblett, Hal Goodis, and Bill Johnson. Of course, I am eternally grateful for the support from my wife, Sandy.

The paths to board certification are maintained by the amazing dedication of the directors and staff of the American Board of Endodontics. They are continually innovating the examination process, maintaining the rigor necessary for candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and skill, while streamlining the path to board certification for candidates. Recent noteworthy updates from the ABE include:

  1. Reducing the number of cases required for a portfolio from 10 to five. (You can read full text about the changes here).
  2. Extending the eligibility period for a Candidate to complete the case history exam from three years to six years.
  3. Continuing to have a dedicated group of past Directors volunteer as examiners for both the Case History and Oral Exams. This volunteerism enables the ABE to examine a greater number of candidates per exam cycle, thus moving candidates more efficiently through the Board certification process.
  4. Increasing the ABE Board from nine Directors to 12 Directors. The current list of directors on the website. The newest members of our Board are Drs. Sami Chogle and Meetu Kohli.
  5. Meeting the challenge of COVID by holding a virtual Oral Exam in March 2021. The ABE also extended the October 2021 exam by one day to accommodate the back log of candidates created in 2020.

I want to express my sincere appreciation to the directors and staff for their commitment to excellence in our specialty.  The combination of perseverant candidates of all ages and experiences, along with a talented and devoted ABE continues to strengthen our specialty.

To new endodontists, and those with many years of experience who have not yet started the journey toward board certification, I encourage you to start down the path and join those who went before you.  Do it for yourself, your patients, and our specialty.