The American Boards of Anesthesiology Explained

ABA Boards Made Easy

The American Boards of Anesthesiology (ABA) is the certifying Boards for Anesthesiologists who have graduated from ACGME residency programs.  (There is also the American Osteopathic Board of Anesthesiology.  I am going to focus on the ABA Certification, because it is the system which I am most familiar.

ABA Board Certification should be your goal when you start your anesthesiology residency training.  You lose sight of the big picture when you are trying to balance your life as a resident.  Most medical school students just concentrate on getting into residency, and getting through residency training so they can be a “real” doctor.

You might have heard about an anesthesiologist who was never “boarded” and has a sweet deal at a surgery center, or the private practice anesthesiologist who has been practicing for years without board certification … but these are becoming outliers.

Today, most anesthesiologists will have to be boarded for a successful long career in medicine.   Your job may depend on board certification in the future, even if you are planning on joining a group without being boarded.  Some hospital policies require board certification for physicians to have staff privileges.

If you start thinking about the process early, you will make the most of our time and training.  Take advantage of your residency training program.  You will be given opportunities during residency that are not as readily available after you graduate.

The Old ABA Exams

In the old system, there were the ITE exams, the Written Exam, and the Oral Exam.  You would graduate form anesthesiology residency, and take the ABA Written Exam in early July.   (In 2008, the ITE and Written Examinations started being administered on computer at a testing site.)  After passing the Written Exam, you would then take the Oral Exam in either April or October.  (Back then, the ABA blocked out a full week for the exam each month.)  The ABA would pick different locations around the country each year to host the Oral Exam.

The ABA would rent out a whole floor of the hotel and the examinee would sit outside the hotel room door, until the examiners are ready.  They would be invited into the hotel room, take the first stem and three grab bag questions, then leave that hotel room and sit outside the hotel room across the hall.  They would have ten minutes to go over the stem, then they would do their second stem and three grab bag questions.  When you finished your exams, you would get the heck out of there and go home.

Most of your older faculty were Boarded under the old system.  Sometimes the advice that they give you, won’t be as helpful, because you are now under a different system.

The New ABA Exams

What is the new system?  The new system for ABA certification, will be very reminiscent of your experience with the USMLE/COMLEX Exams.  There still is the ITE, but now there is the Basic Exam, the Advanced Exam, and the Applied Exam.


ABA Basic Exam

  • The Basic Exam – This is given at the end of your CA-1 Year in June.   The Basic Exam tests basic concepts of anesthesiology.  This is a hard stop exam.  If you do not pass this exam, you will not graduate form residency.  (You have multiple chances to pass this exam so that you can graduate.)  You will want to crush this exam the first time you take it, so that you can graduate from residency and continue to work towards your Board Certification.

ABA Advanced Exam

  • The Advanced Exam – This is given the July after you graduate.  This is a cumulative exam, however, it focuses on advanced concepts of anesthesiology.   You want to pass this exam the first time, so that you can sign up for the Applied Exam.

ABA Applied Exam

  • The Applied Exam – This exam is given multiple times during the year, starting the in the spring.  The Applied Exam is an oral exam which will build upon your anesthesia knowledge that you have been building during your residency.  You will also need to master some of the strategy, tactics, and skills that will help you to do well on the exam.   The Applied Exam will also include an OSCE in the future, so that will be another hurdle to hop over.

Find the infographic depicting the timeline for the ABA Board Certification here.

With the new ABA certification system, you travel to the ABA testing site in North Carolina to take the exam.  The testing site

What is on the Exams?

The ABA has released content outlines for each exam.  While there is some overlap between the exams, each exam does has its own content outline.

Basic Exam Content Outline

Advanced Exam Content Outline

Applied Exam Content Booklet of Information

How Should You Prepare for the Exam?

While you work as a resident, you will be preparing for the exam.  Every time you read up on patients, you will be adding to your anesthesia knowledge.  You will also be taking the ITE each year which will give you feed back as to how you doing on your basic and advanced knowledge.

However, you will also need to be reading and doing practice questions so that you adequately prepare for your board exams.  Below, you will find resources for each exam as you prepare for board certification.

Make the most of your Intern Year here.  You will also have to pass USMLE / COMLEX Step 3.

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