This transcript has been edited for clarity.
I am far from the only doctor, and certainly far from the only oncologist, to recently comment on the topic of Maintenance of Certification. Of course, this is happening in a wider debate about our relationship as subspecialists to the American Board of Internal Medicine, and what they deem acceptable for the recertification of doctors in practice.
One of the things I tell my patients is that if I practiced exactly the way I was trained to practice — and I had a very good fellowship program with superb faculty – if I practiced the way they taught me, it would now be malpractice. I finished my fellowship in 2012, just over a decade ago. The rate of progress in the interim is simply staggering. It looks so different now than it did then.
For instance, 2011 was my first experience ever using a form of immunotherapy. It was an anti-CTLA4 agent, ipilimumab, and I was treating metastatic melanoma. I learned in that instance just how effective these drugs can be, but also how toxic they can be. Ever since then, I’ve been refining my use of immunotherapy. We do that iteratively. We do that as we encounter patients and as we try to meet their needs.
I do understand that the ABIM is saying they want an independent governing body to legislate that process. I think the reason this is stuck in the craw of so many oncologists is that we demonstrate our commitment to continuing medical education all the time.
I’m recording this in my office, which is separate from the space where I see patients. I see patients in a different group of exam rooms for their privacy and it’s a better setup for aspects of the physical encounter. Not a single patient has ever asked to come into my office and see my diplomas, and I sometimes wonder if I keep them here mostly as a visual cue to myself, sort of an antidote to ward off imposter syndrome and remind myself, Oh yeah – I earned these. I earned these through formal training.
Then something happens once you finish your training, whether it’s residency or fellowship, and you become an attending. I think you feel a weight of responsibility, the responsibility of independent learning. All of us are doing this. We have to do this. The field is moving along at such a rapid clip that it’s essentially built into what we do that we are going to keep up. In fact, channels such as the various aspects of social media are a way I curate my own information feed so I can stay up to speed and not feel like I’m drowning in a deluge of new data.
But what’s hard to demonstrate to the ABIM is that [this learning] is already happening. I think we can do it if we submit our records of CME credits that we formally accrue. The reason this is such an almost insult to oncologists in practice is because it is a necessary part of our day-to-day existence to keep apprised of developments so we can apply them to patient care.
One litmus test of attending a medical conference like the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology is to ask oneself, When I go back to clinic, is this meeting going to change the way that I take care of patients? The answer almost invariably these days is yes. I go to multiple meetings per year, and I think it’s the exception, not the rule, that I return home and nothing changes in my management patterns. Again, this process is happening whether the ABIM recognizes it or not.
Lastly, I sat down in the fall of 2022 and I did my recertification. I looked at the span of all the things that had happened between 2012, when I first sat for my board examination in medical oncology, and 2022. It was staggering. I think the reason that it wasn’t such an overwhelming amount of information to review is that I had actually been accreting it slowly and gradually, month by month, year by year throughout that decade.
Again, it’s necessary that the ABIM hear us, hear oncologists, and know that of all the medical subspecialties they govern, it is basically already an essential task of our day-to-day professional existence that we engage in lifelong learning. To suggest otherwise really paints us as outdated. The reason that matters so much is that if we’re not up-to-date, then we are underserving our patients.
Mark A. Lewis, MD, is director of gastrointestinal oncology at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City. He reported no relevant conflicts of interest.
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