Improving Health Through Medical Physics


Kalpana Kanal, PhD | Seattle, WA

AAPM Newsletter — Volume 43 No. 6 — November | December 2018

The ABR Core Physics Committee

The ABR depends upon volunteers to function. ABR trustees, governors, committee members, and oral examiners are all volunteers who serve without pay. One of the key functions of ABR medical physics volunteers is to write the physics questions for all ABR exams. This includes not only the medical physics certification questions, but all also physics questions for diagnostic radiology, interventional radiology/diagnostic radiology, and radiation oncology certification exams. For question writing purposes, volunteers are organized into committees according to their expertise. In this article, the focus is on the Core Physics Committee.

The ABR Core Exam offered in early summer each year is taken by diagnostic radiology residents typically after 36 months of residency training. This is a computer-based exam which covers 18 clinical subspecialty and modality categories as shown in the table. The columns represent the clinical subspecialties. Each associated committee is made up of radiologists who are experts in the particular subspecialty. The rows represent categories for imaging modalities as well as categories for physics and noninterpretive skills. Questions from each category are integrated across all clinical subspecialties. There is no separate physics exam. Physics content is part of the Core Exam and has to be passed independent of the clinical content.

Breast Imaging Thoracic Cardiac Imaging Urinary GI Vascular / IR MSK Neuro Radiology Pediatric Radiology Reproductive / Endocrine
Nuclear Radiology
Noninterpretive Skills

The Core Physics Committee consists of 12 ABR certified medical physicists, with one physicist embedded in each of the clinical subspecialty, nuclear radiology and ultrasound committees. These physicists have the following two-fold responsibilities:

  • Clinical Subspecialty Committee:
    • Write clinically relevant physics questions pertaining to the clinical subspecialty
    • Participate in the clinical subspecialty conference calls to review questions
    • Attend the clinical subspecialty committee exam assembly meeting and select physics questions for the exam
  • Core Physics Committee:
    • Participate in the Core physics committee conference calls periodically to review questions written by all physicists
    • Participate in the Core Physics committee exam assembly meeting with other physicists and review all the physics questions selected by the clinical committees for the Core Exam

Breast Imaging Thoracic Cardiac Imaging Urinary GI Vascular / IR MSK Neuro Radiology Pediatric Radiology Reproductive / Endocrine US Nuclear Radiology

The writing cycle generally starts in April and ends in early September. As the physicists write questions and have their questions approved/revised by their respective clinical subspecialty committees, the questions are sent for review to ABR editorial staff, who check each question for ABR recommended stem and response format, clarity and grammar. The ABR maintains an item writing style guide to inform item writers and editorial staff of the appropriate style for exam items. If there is an image associated with the question, it is checked for copyright and HIPAA violations along with image clarity and focus. Clinical subspecialty committees, which include a physicist, meet towards the end of the item writing cycle to review their subspecialty questions and the physics questions associated with the subspecialty. The physicist for each clinical subspecialty committee attends these meetings.

At the end of the writing cycle in early September, the Core Physics Committee, which includes 12 physicists and the diagnostic and nuclear medical physics trustees, meets in Chicago for 1.5 days to assemble the physics content of the Core Exam for the following year. All physicists participate in the exam assembly meeting. At this meeting, three exams are assembled for the Core Exams to be given the following year. Each question is scrutinized for physics content, relevance and clinical applicability. A question may be rejected if not appropriate and revised/replaced as needed even if it has been reviewed at the clinical committee level. Typically 15-20% of the questions are replaced at the Core Physics Committee meeting. This is the final step in the process of selecting and reviewing questions for the physics content of the Core Exam.

The medical physicist volunteers on this committee dedicate a tremendous amount of time and effort in creating the questions and assembling the content for the exam.

Core Committee members as of September 2018: Samuel Brady, Karen Brown (Chair), Andrea Dohatcu, Tyler Fisher, David Jordon, Brad Lofton, Zheng Feng Lu, Mark Madsen, Mahadevappa Mahesh, Mathew Palmer, Timothy Szczykutowicz, David Zamora, Jie Zhang.

The ABR thanks all the medical physicists who serve on the Core Physics Committee for ensuring that the physics content on the Core Exam is appropriate, of high quality and clinically relevant.

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