Certification & Licensure SIGIMIE: Fear and Loathing in Certification & Licensure

By Megan Welsh posted 07-30-2020 22:26

Licensure_SIGIMIE.jpgMichael Peabody, National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, Andrew Jones, American Board of Surgery, Jonathan Rubright, National Board of Medical Examiners, and Pooja Shivraj, American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology

As committee members for the new NCME SIGIMIE on Certification and Licensure, we thought we’d share our experiences on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our respective organizations. 

In a somewhat obvious statement, state restrictions on gatherings and a general unwillingness to travel have transformed the way in which our programs operate. 

Standard setting panels are now being held virtually.  Asynchronous standard setting panels have been around for years, but for a lot of organizations, standard setting procedures for in-person panels were established many years ago and are strongly ingrained in the organizational culture.  For some, the idea of conducting this type of panel using video conferencing or some other online method is a completely foreign concept.

Item writers are now being asked to submit new items electronically.  Most modern item banking platforms have the capacity for online item writing and editing, yet many organizations (some our ours included) have insisted that item writers and reviewers meet in-person. 

Oversight committees, from test committees to meetings of boards of directors, have migrated from boardrooms and resort hotels to video-conferencing platforms.  This places limits on the critical interaction between oversight bodies and those they are overseeing.      

Remote proctoring has become an immediate need rather than some distant dreamland where maybe, someday, we can get there.  In many cases, the issue of delivering exams online is being driven less by operational issues and more by external forces. 

Due to social distancing restrictions, test centers are (depending on the vendor) operating at approximately half-capacity.  Schools are graduating students and who are not able to schedule their licensure exam for months due to the decrease in available test center seats.  In response, schools and training programs have been pushing the state boards and governors to lift restrictions around obtaining professional licenses, such that some states have decided to issue temporary licenses. 

Many students were not able to complete their final months of education and training due to closures, which has caused tension between schools, who are graduating students even though students may not have completed all of the program requirements, and accreditors. Accreditors insist that program requirements are essential for professional practice and schools will be sanctioned if they graduate students without meeting these requirements.  This has set up an existential crisis regarding the necessary requirements to enter professional practice:

  • Do students need a licensing exam?
  • Are accreditation program requirements appropriate?
  • How do we best serve our organizational missions?

These are questions that we should always ask ourselves, but now those who would essentially eliminate these requirements are gaining a louder voice with policymakers.  Certification and licensing bodies will have to be forward-thinking in their approaches to successfully navigate the demands of the public and the stakeholders who need credentials to practice in their respective professions.