1970-1979: Applicants Soar and the Board Reorganizes

History of the Board


The 1970s brought more than the VCR, Earth Shoes, The Pentagon Papers, and the end of US involvement the war in Viet Nam. For the American Board of Periodontology, the decade ushered in 10 years of changes that would help to streamline the examination process and reorganize the Board.

The ABP had high hopes for the recent division of the certifying examination into three parts. In his January 26, 1970, report to the Executive Council of the AAP, Dr. Henry M. Swenson, Secretary-Treasurer of the ABP, wrote: “It is anticipated that the number of diplomates certified in 1972 will double those certified this year.” The written examination had been offered to 75 candidates in October 1969, and 69 of those candidates passed. Twenty-two candidates were eligible to take the clinical-oral examination, scheduled for April in Indianapolis.

Participation in the written examination continued to increase: 91 candidates turned out for the September 15, 1970, exam at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Dentistry and the following year 101 candidates took the written exam at Loyola University Dental School. Two years later the number taking the written exam, held in San Diego, dipped to 81 but in 1973 jumped up to 120 candidates, of whom 108 were successful, and in 1974 the number swelled to 151 with 133 successful completions.

Recalls Dr. Erwin Barrington, who took his exams in the 70s: “At the time, you presented five cases to the Board. You went to Indiana University to be examined for your orals and you were there for four days. During that time you saw two or three patients (for the hands-on segment) and you went through several oral examination, all within that four-day period.” Dr. Barrington used the drive back to Chicago to unwind from the intensity of the experience: “There were Interstates to drive home, but instead I took every side road I could find, and the three-and-a-half hour trip must have taken me seven hours...just to get over that four days of immersion that we had in the Board exam.”

Throughout the mid-70s, the Board continued to look at modifications in the exam. In April 1972 the Board voted to reduce the number of case reports from five to three, with the requirement “that cases be comprehensive in terms of periodontal pathology, treatment and documentation.”  In 1973 the Board also began to consider establishing requirements for recertification of diplomates, and adopted a recertification system two years later, in 1975.

The Board itself also underwent some significant changes, starting in the early years of the 1970s when criticism arose over the method of selecting nominees for the Board. A special committee, called the Committee on Selection and Function of the American Board of Periodontology, was formed to study the issues and recommend possible changes. In September 1972, the Committee recommended to the Executive Council of the Academy, among other changes, that the number of Board Directors be increased to eight and the term of membership should be six years, with a limit of one term per Director (in 1980 Bylaws were enacted changing term limits from two three-year terms to a single six-year term). The Committee also recommended that the eight-member Board be composed of four full-time academicians and four practitioners who were not full-time academicians. It also made numerous recommendations regarding elections of Directors. As ultimately incorporated into Academy Bylaws, they led to the creation of the Nominating committee for the ABP, which consisted of eight members, one each from the eight Academy Districts. Initially, these committee members were elected at District Caucuses. (In 1981 the Academy adopted another bylaw change that instituted selection by mail ballot.)

“These political changes were very important,” explains Dr. Robert Reeves, who served on the Board from 1966 to 1972. “For example, with the adoption of the single, six-year term, directors were better able to focus on the job at hand rather than be distracted by the process of running for a second, shorter term.”

External forces also impinged on the Board’s work. An April 12, 1975, memo to the ABP Directors from the Committee on Selection and Function of the American Board of Periodontology, expressed concern about achieving the goals of certification, the most important being assurance that certified specialists have “superior skill” and “high level of competency.” The memo recommended that the Board encourage state specialty boards to accept ABP certification as fulfillment of licensure requirements. It also included suggestions regarding case reports and the clinical examination, asking that the ABP “give serious consideration to modifying the clinical phase.” In 1976 the Board discontinued the patient-related clinical phase of the examination and decided to expand the oral examination, using the case reports previously submitted by candidates. It was decided in 1977 that the oral phase consist of two examinations of one hour each, with two teams of two directors.

The Board also decided in 1977 that at least two years of practice “devoted to periodontology” must take place “after completion of the advanced educational program” before the case reports could be submitted. It also set a deadline of September 1 each year for submission. (Previously, the requirement had been three years “devoted to periodontology before the examination for certification can be completed.”) Two years later, in October 1979, the Board modified Parts II and III of the certification examination, eliminating the written narrative portion of the case reports, and expanding the oral examination to two, two-hours sessions.

As the 70s drew to a close, it was apparent that the Board had made many significant achievements, refining the examination process, making it more accessible to the growing number of periodontists, and resolving internal concerns about the Boards political processes. Still, concerns remained, revolving primarily around the number of periodontists taking the exam, which began to decline again as the decade closed.

Memo to the Executive Council, American Academy of Periodontology, from Robert L. Reeves, DDS, Secretary-Treasurer of the ABP. October 5, 1972. 




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