How should the ABR test communication skills? Isn’t that up to the residency programs? The ACGME maintains six core competencies. Only 1 of those 6 (medical knowledge) can be tested by board exams. Others, like professionalism and interpersonal/communication skills, cannot.
Testing Communication Skills
I believe testing and standardizing some basic communication skills before graduation is necessary. Currently, there is significant variability in the quality of communication teachings in different residencies. We certainly don’t want to create new graduates of residency programs who don’t feel comfortable relaying information expeditiously to clinicians or dictating a case. To that end, there are many ways that the ABR could test communication skills.
First, the resident may be able to answer questions in an appropriate dictation format to demonstrate they understand the mechanics of dictation. (At least that would ensure that graduating residents understand the basics.) Grading would be a bit more challenging, but there is no reason why the ABR cannot create such a scheme for a grading system. Second, the previous oral boards, albeit imperfect, did test residents’ ability to communicate the examination, the findings, the impression/differential, and management.
So, to say that ABR can’t test communication skills does not make sense. I’m sure we could develop a new and improved oral board type of examination to test the skill of communicating radiological findings to clinicians and patients in a much-improved way. Perhaps we could create a part 2 to the core examination. If the USMLE examination can do it, why can’t the ABR test for the same things but direct it toward the needs of radiologists?
I agree that testing professionalism is a more challenging nut to crack. Furthermore, unlike communication, professionalism is not a skill set but a way of acting ethically within the profession. You can’t standardize minimum requirements for professionalism in a test format. As you hinted, let’s leave that to the individual programs. But you can undoubtedly standardize essential minimum competencies for communication skills. And I think that should be the responsibility of the ABR if they want to establish the minimum abilities of a graduating radiology resident.
I believe we create excuses for ourselves to say it is impossible to test communication skills. It is certainly possible, and if other professions can do it, radiology can do it, too. To say that it is impossible or too hard is just pure laziness. It would just take time, rededication of funds, and getting together some intelligent radiologists and educators to figure it out. If called upon, I would be happy to give my input!!!