Everyone always told me that my time in residency would fly by, and the 3 years of internal medicine training really did seem to pass in just a few moments. Before I knew it, I had passed my internal medicine boards and practiced hospital medicine at an academic medical center.
One day last fall, I received notice from the American Board of Internal Medicine that it was time to recertify. I was surprised – had it already been 10 years? What did I have to do to maintain my certification?
As I investigated what it would take to maintain certification, I discovered that the recertification process provided more flexibility, compared with original board certification. I now had the option to recertify in internal medicine with a Focused Practice in Hospital Medicine (FPHM). Beginning in 2014, ABIM offered hospitalists, or internists whose clinical practice is mainly in the inpatient setting, the option to recertify in internal medicine, but with the designation that highlighted their clinical practice in the inpatient setting.
The first step in recertification for me was deciding to recertify with the focus in hospital medicine or maintain the traditional internal medicine certification. I talked with several colleagues who are also practicing hospitalists and weighed their reasons for opting for FPHM. Ultimately, my decision to pursue a recertification with a focus in hospital medicine relied on three factors: First, my clinical practice since completing residency was exclusively in the inpatient setting. Day in and day out, I care for patients who are acutely ill and require inpatient medical care. Second, I wanted my board certification to reflect what I consider to be my area of clinical expertise, which is inpatient adult medicine. Pursuing the FPHM would provide that recognition. Finally, I wanted to study and be tested on topics that I could utilize in my day-to-day practice. Because I exclusively practiced hospital medicine since graduation, areas of clinical internal medicine that I did not frequently encounter in my daily practice became less accessible in my knowledge base.
The next step then was to enter the FPHM Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program.
The ABIM requires two attestations to verify that I met the requirements to be a hospitalist. First was a self-attestation confirming at least 3 years of unsupervised inpatient care practice experience, and meeting patient encounter thresholds in the inpatient setting. The second attestation was from a “Senior Hospital Officer” confirming the information in the self-attestation was accurate.
Once entered into the program and having an unrestricted medical license to practice, I had to complete the remaining requirements of earning MOC points and then passing a knowledge-based assessment. I had to accumulate a total of 100 MOC points in the past 5 years, which I succeeded in doing through participating in quality improvement projects, recording CME credits, studying for the exam, and even taking the exam. I could track my point totals through the ABIM Physician Portal, which updated my point tally automatically for activities that counted toward MOC, such as attending SHM’s annual conference.
The final component was to pass the knowledge assessment, the dreaded exam. In 2018, I had the option to take the 10-year FPHM exam or do a general internal medicine Knowledge Check-In. Beginning in 2020, candidates will be able to sit for either the 10-year Focused Practice in Hospital Medicine exam or begin the Hospital Medicine Knowledge Check-In pathway. I had already decided to pursue FPHM and began to prepare to sit for an exam. I scheduled my exam through the ABIM portal at a local testing center.
The exam was scheduled for a full day, consisting of four sections broken up by a lunch break and section breaks. Specifically, the 220 single best answer, multiple-choice exam covered diagnosis, testing, treatment decisions, epidemiology, and basic science content through patient scenarios that reflected the scope of practice of a hospitalist. The ABIM provided an exam blueprint that detailed the specific clinical topics and the likelihood that a question pertaining to that topic would show up on the exam. Content was described as high, medium, or low importance and the number of questions related to the content was 75% for high importance, no more than 25% for medium importance, and no questions for low-importance content. In addition, content was distributed in a way that was reflective of my clinical practice as a hospitalist: 63.5% inpatient and traditional care; 6.5% palliative care; 15% consultative comanagement; and 15% quality, safety, and clinical reasoning.
Beginning 6 months prior to my scheduled exam, I purchased two critical resources to guide my studying efforts: the SHM Spark Self-Assessment Tool and the American College of Physicians Medical Knowledge Self-Assessment Program to review subject matter content and also do practice questions.
The latest version of SHM’s program, Spark Edition 2, provides updated questions and resources tailored to the hospital medicine exams. I appreciated the ability to answer questions online, as well as on my phone so I could do questions on the go. Moreover, I was able to track which content areas were stronger or weaker for me, and focus attention on areas that needed more work. Importantly, the questions I answered using the Spark self-assessment tool closely aligned with the subject matter I encountered in the exam, as well as the clinical cases I encounter every day in my practice.
While the day-long exam was challenging, I was gratified to receive notice from the ABIM that I had successfully recertified in internal medicine with a Focused Practice in Hospital Medicine!
Dr. Tad-y is a hospitalist at the University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora, and associate vice chair of quality in the department of medicine at the University of Colorado.