A Multimodal Roadmap for Success on the Oral Boards

Bernard R. Bendok, MD
Rami J. Aoun
Michele Heaphy

Traditionally, study approaches for neurosurgery candidates preparing for the oral boards have been mired by antiquated educational resources and inefficient modalities. In the past decade, there has been a paradigm shift in the delivery of medical education. The Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) has become a pioneer in this regard by focusing on modern multimodal approaches and emphasizing early preparation to prevent the pitfalls associated with cramming and other ineffective study strategies. The ideal board preparation course should take into account the time constraints of the exam candidates, be offered well in advance of test dates to provide sufficient time for private study, and provide a comprehensive platform for interaction with both faculty and other test-takers. With this contemporary educational format in mind, the CNS came up with structured and comprehensive review material directed towards the American Board of Neurological Surgeons (ABNS) Oral Board Examination and delivered it in a strategic fashion (Figure 1).

Oral Board Exam Early Review Course Online Oral Board Study Resources
One of the main tenets of the CNS’s modern strategy is a yearly live course. The CNS Oral Board Exam Preparation Early Review Course, first launched in 2014, has been a resounding success. Directed by Jamie Ullman and co-directed by Bernard Bendok and Costas Hadjipanayis, the course is held once per year approximately three months in advance of the Oral Boards. The faculty members are national leaders in their subspecialty and are expertly versed in guiding candidates on test preparation. Throughout the course, case based learning is emphasized through presentations, lectures, small group meetings, and panel discussions. Moreover, participants receive preparation advice and test-taking strategies.

The course concludes with an “Ask the Experts” panel discussion to address specific questions about the material and the test. The lectures are then compiled into a booklet that the candidate can refer to as they continue their preparation. At the end of the course a study guide with focused topics is handed out along with a list of sentinel literature. This sentinel literature list includes guidelines, important publications, and foundational books. Additionally, course attendees receive a top ten list of educational offerings at the CNS Annual Meeting, which occurs between the review course and the Oral Board examination. The course has consistently received positive feedback from participants with over 90% of the attendees being “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied.” There are plans to hold the course twice per year beginning in 2017.

Online Oral Board Study Resources
To complement the live course and board review sessions, the CNS provides the students with a repertoire of online study resources. One of the resources offered is a series of 90-minute live webinars in all neurosurgical subspecialty areas. These live webinars are archived and are available for purchase from the CNS website. A second online resource the CNS offers is the Self-Assessment in Neurological Surgery (SANS). This interactive question bank helps candidates identify knowledge gaps and condition themselves for board-style questions. The third important online resource is Neurosurgery Watch. Each month, the Neurosurgery Watch panel reviews over 50 journals and summarizes the key points of significant recently published neurosurgical research. The fourth resource offered is Operative Neurosurgery’s 3D video archive. These videos immerse the user, providing depth perception and surgical technique instruction from prominent neurosurgeons in the field. Finally, the CNS web portal provides a “Case of the Month” which can be used to think through cases as one would on the Oral Board.

This comprehensive and high impact multimodal approach is strategically set up three to four months before the oral boards, ensuring maximum effectiveness, practicality, and efficiency in board examination preparation. The educational model of combining a live course with online resources and a guide to the Annual Meeting offerings is very useful in achieving high student performance on the ABNS Oral Board Examination.

Additional Authors: Mithun G. Sattur, MD; Andrew Pines, MS; Roshan Panchanathan; Tammy L. Tyree, CNP, MSN