MOC: An Insult to Oncologists Engaged In Patient Care


                                                            By Mark A. Lewis, MD

This month, I want to address Maintenance of Certification. I am far from the only doctor, and certainly far from the only oncologist, to recently comment on the topic of Maintenance of Certification. Of course, this is happening in a wider debate about our relationship as subspecialists to the ABIM, the American Board of Internal Medicine, and what they deem acceptable for the recertification of doctors in practice.

My take is that every oncologist is already engaged in lifelong learning. One of the things I tell my patients is that if I practiced exactly the way I was trained to practice — and I had a very good fellowship program with superb faculty — if I practiced the way they taught me, it would now be malpractice. I finished my fellowship in 2012, just over a decade ago. The rate of progress in the interim is simply staggering. It looks so different now than it did then.

For instance, 2011 was my first experience ever using a form of immunotherapy. It was an anti–CTLA-4 agent, ipilimumab, and I was treating metastatic melanoma. I learned in that instance just how effective these drugs can be, but also how toxic they can be. Ever since then, I've been refining my use of immunotherapy. We do that iteratively. We do that as we encounter patients and as we try to meet their needs.

I do understand that the ABIM is saying they want an independent governing body to legislate that process. I think the reason this is stuck in the craw of so many oncologists is that we demonstrate our commitment to continuing medical education all the time.

I'm recording this in my office, which is separate from the space where I see patients. I see patients in a different group of exam rooms for their privacy and it's a better setup for aspects of the physical encounter. Not a single patient has ever asked to come into my office and see my diplomas, and I sometimes wonder if I keep them here mostly as a visual cue to myself, sort of an antidote to ward off imposter syndrome and remind myself, Oh yeah — I earned these. I earned these through formal training.

Then something happens once you finish your training, whether it's residency or fellowship, and you become an attending. I think you feel a weight of responsibility, the responsibility of independent learning. All of us are doing this. We have to do this. The field is moving along at such a rapid clip that it's essentially built into what we do that we are going to keep up. In fact, medical journals, not to mention all the various aspects of social media, are a way I curate my own information feed so I can stay up to speed and not feel like I'm drowning in a deluge of new data.

But what's hard to demonstrate to the ABIM is that [this learning] is already happening. I think we can do it if we submit our records of CME credits that we formally accrue. The reason this is such an almost insult to oncologists in practice is because it is a necessary part of our day-to-day existence to keep apprised of developments so we can apply them to patient care.

One litmus test of attending a medical conference like the ASCO annual meeting is to ask oneself, When I go back to clinic, is this meeting going to change the way that I take care of patients? The answer almost invariably these days is yes. I go to multiple meetings per year, and I think it's the exception, not the rule, that I return home and nothing changes in my management patterns. Again, this process is happening whether the ABIM recognizes it or not.

Lastly, I sat down last fall and I did my recertification. I looked at the span of all the things that had happened between 2012, when I first sat for my board examination in medical oncology, and 2022. It was staggering. I think the reason that it wasn't such an overwhelming amount of information to review is that I had actually been accreting it slowly and gradually, month by month, year by year throughout that decade.

Again, it's necessary that the ABIM hear us, hear oncologists, and know that of all the medical subspecialties they govern, it is basically already an essential task of our day-to-day professional existence that we engage in lifelong learning. To suggest otherwise really paints us as outdated. The reason that matters so much is that if we're not up-to-date, then we are underserving our patients.

With that, I'm off to do more lifelong learning. Thank you.

Mark A. Lewis, MD, is director of gastrointestinal oncology at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has an interest in neuroendocrine tumors, hereditary cancer syndromes, and patient-physician communication.


Articles in this issue:

Journal of Medicine Sign Up

Get the Journal of Medicine delivered to your inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

No membership required*


    • Editor-in Chief:
    • Theodore Massey
    • Editor:
    • Robert Sokonow
    • Editorial Staff:
    • Musaba Dekau
      Lin Takahashi
      Thomas Levine
      Cynthia Casteneda Avina
      Ronald Harvinger
      Lisa Andonis

Leave a Comment

Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated. Please do not use a spam keyword or a domain as your name, or else it will be deleted. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for your comments!

*This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.