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Doctors Caught Cheating on ABIM Certification Exam

Liz Jones, June 10, 2010

One hundred thirty-nine physicians have had their status with the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) suspended or revoked as a result of cheating on their board certification exams. The offending physicians participated in Arora Board Review, New Jersey-based test-preparation course. The director of the course encouraged physicians who took the exam to write down the questions and report them back. According to Arora's website, the company has temporarily suspended business until it reaches a settlement with the ABIM.

"There were reams of emails between the doctor who ran the course and the individuals telling him what they were doing. They were contacting dozens of other colleagues who were taking the exam, writing things down during breaks, dictating notes, and memorizing the questions and sending them to [the director]," says Christine K. Cassel, MD, ABIM's president and CEO.

The ABIM discovered that many of the questions posted on Arora's website were verbatim, copyright-protected ABIM exam questions. Other physicians who took the course alerted the ABIM of the suspicious behavior, which sparked the ABIM to launch a months-long investigation.

Thousands of physicians took Arora's course, but after a thorough investigation, the ABIM narrowed it down to 139 who actively helped the test preparation course provider gather questions. "Some of them were up to 100 questions. The other thing is that some people purchased batches of ABIM exam questions just before they were about to take the exam. There was a whole range of these kinds of behaviors," says Cassel.

As of June 8, the board suspended or revoked the offending physicians' board statuses. This black mark on their records may pose obstacles for them down the road as they try to gain employment with hospitals or medical groups or grow independent practices. "Many hospitals, medical groups, and health plans require or strongly prefer that physicians be board certified, so there will be consequences for some of these folks," Cassel says.

To prevent cases like this from arising in the future, Cassel says that the ABIM has several employees dedicated to scanning websites dedicated to test preparation to detect infringements. In addition, Cassel seeks to send a message to physicians who want to become board certified: cheating on the board examination is unethical and physicians who engage in such behavior will be held accountable.

"The board expects physicians to be held to a high ethical standard, and they have a written agreement to not violate intellectual property copyright. As a public facing organization, the most important thing for us is that the ethics and professionalism of the board certified standard be just as rigorous as the rest of the standards," Cassel says.

To read the ABIM press release, visit www.abim.org/news/.


Liz Jones is an associate editor at HCPro, Inc. She writes Medical Staff Briefing, Hospitalist Leadership Advisor, and Credentialing and Peer Review Legal Insider. She can be reached at ejones@hcpro.com.

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