ABIM Oncology Board Review Course : Is It Worth It?

In my honest opinion I would say no.  Obviously, the decision is up to the student.  If your program pays for it, then I would suggest you take up the opportunity. There are caveats, however. Allow me to elaborate.


There are a variety of medical oncology and hematology board preparation courses out there, generally run out of the major universities such as MD Anderson, Georgetown, University of Washington, etc. They offer a faculty who are very credible and nationally renowned specialist in their respective fields. The faculty may not necessarily be contributing authors to the ABIM oncology certification examination.

The purpose of these courses, is not to help you pass the examination.  They are there for 2 reasons, to make money and permeate there brand-name/credibility of the hosting institution.  They are another jewel in their crown.  

Their entire panel of renowned clinicians can speak ad infinitum about colon cancer or hemochromatosis, etc.  For board exam preparation, you do not need ad infinitum.  You need focused studying.  The level of detail that they get into, is generally not necessary for passing the board exam.  The medical oncology exam is not meant to tease out who will be the next best researcher for Dana-Farber or MD Anderson. It is meant to meet a threshold of baseline clinical proficiency for the general practicing medical oncologist.  The courses are NOT run by general medical oncologists, for the most part. 


Another major disadvantage occurs if somebody has not prepared for the course.  It can be a little nerve-racking, when you start coming across facts that you have either not reviewed or are uncertain about their clinical utility.

You could make an argument for taking the course, if one is already well prepared, it can be in-step with a lecture, then yes.

At the end of the day, nothing is going to substitute for the raw number of hours put in studying.  These rules have not changed since elementary school. If a review course is offering 40 hours of review, and you should be reading 10 hours per week for 12-18 months, then this accounts for at most 10% of the hours put in.  

My final recommendation is that you save you money, and use that time for a focused self-directed study.

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