Commentary: Should board exams include a technical skill assessment? A European perspective

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Seeking standards of competency

Dr. Malachi Sheahan III

Dr. Eckstein’s excellent review highlights the challenges the European Union faces in trying to standardize its certification in vascular surgery. Among European nations, the training pathways in vascular surgery are extremely varied, yet the European Economic Union calls for a medical specialist who is certified in one country to be able to practice that specialty in any EEU nation. While participation in the Fellowship of the European Board in Vascular Surgery is still mostly optional, it does provide a path toward a standard of quality that includes competence in open and endovascular procedures. In the United States, we face a similar dilemma with the advent of the integrated vascular residencies. Curricula, case volumes, and rotations still vary wildly between programs and in comparison with traditional fellowships. One solution is the Fundamentals of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery (FVEVS) project. Currently in its pilot stage, the FVEVS is designed to ensure the attainment of basic technical competencies by the mid-trainee level so the later years are focused on advanced open and endovascular training.

Dr. Malachi Sheahan III is the Associate Medical Editor for Vascular Specialist.



The incidence of vascular diseases is steadily increasing because of an aging population. Vascular surgery is the only specialty that can offer all modalities of vascular therapy (endovascular, open, and conservative). It is therefore necessary to ensure implementation of all these modalities in a modern vascular surgical curricula. The creation of a vascular specialist curriculum is undoubtedly the best way to overcome further fragmentation of vascular provision and to prevent the increasingly financially-driven incentives that can mislead treatment. For obvious reasons this would be a major benefit for our patients and for our specialty.

Another reason for updating the vascular surgical curricula is the significant reduction of open aortic and peripheral vascular surgical training cases, such as abdominal aortic aneurysms and superficial femoral artery occlusions.1 Since the vast majority of these patients are now treated by endovascular means, the remaining vascular disease morphologies can technically be very demanding when requiring open vascular surgery procedures.

Dr. Hans-Henning Eckstein

Dr. Hans-Henning Eckstein

Nevertheless, the public and our patients quite understandably expect to be treated by well trained and competent vascular surgeons/specialists. As in all other professions, a proper assessment of all vascular competencies is therefore considered to be mandatory at the end of the training period for a vascular specialist. To this end, several proposals have been made to improve both the structure and different assessment tools including the Vascular Surgical Milestones Project,2 the Vascular Surgery In-Training Examinations (VSITE),3 the use of procedure-based assessments (PBA),4 or objective structured assessments of technical skills (OSATS).5 In addition, simulation workshops (using computer- or life-like synthetic models) play an increasing role in teaching vascular residents the ever-increasing number of different open and endovascular surgical techniques.6,7

Traditionally, the final board examination at the end of the vascular surgical training period consists of an oral assessment or a computer-based test. The obvious crucial question is whether a practical examination should be a added as a mandatory part of a vascular exit exam. This article gives an overview of the board examination of the European Board of Vascular Surgery (EBVS) at the UEMS (Union of European Medical Specialists), which adopted a technical skills assessment in 2006.

The European Vascular Surgical Examination

The UEMS was founded in 1958 as an official body of the European Union (EU). The UEMS has the remits to accredit medical meetings,8 to promote free professional movement of all doctors within Europe, and to ensure high quality of training and associated specialist standards via UEMS examinations.9,10 Currently, the UEMS represents the national medical societies of 37 member states. To date there are 42 UEMS Specialist Sections (separate and independent disciplines), UEMS Divisions (key areas within the independent disciplines, such as Interventional Radiology) and some so-called “Multidisciplinary Joint Committees” (such as Phlebology).

Since 2005, vascular surgery has been represented as an independent medical discipline within the UEMS.Politically, this was a tremendously important step that has helped many European countries to establish vascular surgery on a national level as a separate specialty. The most recent examples are Switzerland (since 2014) and Austria (since 2015).

European vascular surgical examinations have been offered since 1996. The Fellowship of the European Board in Vascular Surgery (FEBVS) is voluntary in most European countries, but in some countries, such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, the European exam has now replaced the national specialist exam.12 Other countries also are in the process of accepting this European standard as a national standard, including Romania, Austria, and Sweden.

The European exam consists of a written section and a combined oral and practical exam. Candidates must be in possession of a national specialist title for surgery or vascular surgery (in countries with a monospecialty). Applications from non-EU countries also are accepted.

Applications must be made in writing, giving details of open-operative and endovascular experience. A distinction is made between assisted operations, independently performed surgery with assistance, and actual independently performed surgical procedures without specialist tutorial assistance. All candidates admitted to the examination have to pass a one-day oral and practical examination, which includes questioning on theoretical background knowledge and its practical application. This takes place mostly in the context of specific clinical case studies as well as via practical examinations on pulsatile perfused lifelike models.

The following procedures are assessed: an infrarenal aortic anastomosis, a carotid endarterectomy, and a distal bypass anastomosis.6,13,14 In the endovascular part of the examination, the applicant’s ability to introduce a guide-wire into the renal artery is assessed.15 Unlike the case in many national tests, FEBVS candidates are also presented with a specialist English-language publication (usually from the European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery). This article is then discussed with two examiners, with respect to its quality as well as its methodological content and significance. Many examination candidates fear this hurdle the most, but in fact very few participants fail this part of the test.

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