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The ABO to certification process consists of two phases: a written qualifying examination, and an oral certifying examination.

All candidates must take a written examination which is offered in the spring of each year on a Friday. All candidates then take an oral exam, offered on Saturday or Sunday. Candidates who do not achieve the qualifying score on the written exam fail, and their oral exam is not scored. They may retake the written and oral exam in a subsequent year.

Oral exam results for candidates who meet or exceed the qualifying score on the written exam are then processed Candidates are given three consecutive opportunities to take and pass the oral exam. If a passing score is not achieved after three exam cycles, the candidate must reapply to take the written exam.

Written and oral examination scores are not combined. An individual must successfully complete both the written and the oral exam in order to be certified. A certificate is granted by the ABOto to a candidate who has met all the requirements and has satisfactorily passed its examinations.

Requests for an appeal regarding a certification decision must be postmarked within forty days of the date exam results are postmarked at the ABOto office. A copy of the Appeals Policy as related to the certification process is available upon request.

The Board makes no representation as to whether its certification process satisfies the recertification or specialty certification requirements of any state medical board. Any such determination must be made by the state medical board.

The purpose of the examination is to determine the candidate's knowledge and understanding of the following:

  1. Morphology, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, and immunology relevant to the head and neck; the respiratory and upper alimentary systems; the communication sciences, including knowledge of audiology and speech-language pathology; the chemical senses and allergy/immunology, endocrinology, and neurology as they relate to the head and neck.
  2. Diagnosis and diagnostic methods including audiologic and vestibular assessments, electrophysiologic techniques, and other related laboratory procedures for diseases and disorders of the ears, the respiratory and upper alimentary systems, and the head and neck.
  3. Therapeutic and diagnostic radiology, including the interpretation of medical imaging techniques relevant to the head, neck, and thorax, including the temporal bone, skull, nose, paranasal sinuses, salivary and thyroid glands, larynx, neck, lungs, and esophagus.
  4. Diagnostic evaluation and management of congenital anomalies, allergy, sleep disorders, trauma, and other diseases in the regions and systems mentioned above.
  5. The cognitive management, including operative intervention with its preoperative and postoperative care, of congenital, inflammatory, endocrine, neoplastic, degenerative and traumatic states, including:

    a. temporal bone surgery
    b. paranasal sinus and nasal surgery
    c. skull-base surgery
    d. maxillofacial surgery including the orbits, jaws and facial skeleton
    e. aesthetic, plastic and reconstructive surgery of the face, head and neck
    f. surgery of the thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary and salivary glands
    g. head and neck reconstructive surgery relating to the restoration of form and function in congenital anomalies and head and neck trauma and neoplasms
    h. endoscopy, both diagnostic and therapeutic
    i. surgery of the lymphatic tissues of the head and neck.

  6. The habilitation and rehabilitation techniques and procedures pertaining to respiration, deglutition, chemoreception, balance, speech, and hearing.
  7. The current literature, especially pertaining to the areas listed above.
  8. Research methodology.

In order to assist otolaryngology Program Directors in evaluating their programs, the Board reports each applicant's examination results to the director of the program in which the applicant completed his/her senior resident year.



Training programs in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery in the United States are evaluated by the Residency Review Committee for Otolaryngology (RRC), which consists of representatives from the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the ABOto, and are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Information concerning approved educational programs can be found in the Graduate Medical Education Directory published by the American Medical Association.

Individuals who entered otolaryngology-head and neck surgery training between July 1, 2000 - June 30, 2005 must satisfactorily complete a minimum of five years of training, as specified below, in an ACGME-approved program(s):

  • At least ONE YEAR of general surgical training. It is preferred that the general surgical residency be taken prior to otolaryngologic training, but it may not be taken after otolaryngologic training.
  • At least FOUR YEARS of residency training in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. This training must involve increasing responsibility each year and must include a final year of senior experience. This final year must be spent within the accredited program in which the previous year of training was spent, unless prior approval is obtained from the ABOto.

Individuals who enter otolaryngology-head and neck surgery training on or after July 1, 2005 must satisfactorily complete a minimum of five years of training, as specified below, in an ACGME-approved program(s):

Residency programs must be of five years duration, with at least nine months of basic surgical, emergency medicine, critical care, and anesthesia training within the first year; including at least 48 months of progressive education in the specialty. This training must include a final year of senior experience. This final year must be spent within the accredited program in which the previous year of training was spent, unless prior approval is obtained from the ABOto.

The first year of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery training should include a minimum of five months of structured education in at least three of the following: general surgery, thoracic surgery, vascular surgery, plastic surgery, and surgical oncology. In addition, one month of structured education in each of the following four clinical areas: emergency medicine, critical care unit, anesthesia, and neurological surgery. An additional maximum of three months of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery is optional, and any remaining months of the PGY-1 year must be completed in an ACGME approved program, or rotations specifically approved by the RRC.

All residency training must be completed in a manner acceptable to the Director of that residency program.



All residents must be registered with the ABOto during the first year of otolaryngology training in order to subsequently apply to take the certification examination.

A New Resident Form must be filed for each new resident by the Program Director by July 10 of the first year of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery training.

New residents then receive instructions on the procedure and deadline for submitting an official medical school transcript and documentation of previous training (see Section 2 below).

The Program Director subsequently submits a Resident Evaluation Form for each returning resident by July 10 of each year. It must be noted whether the previous year was successfully completed.

Resident Evaluation Forms become part of the individual's ABOto file, and are a prerequisite for application for the certification examination. Credit may not be granted by the ABOto for any year of training for which an Evaluation Form is not received. Programs not meeting the July 10 deadline for submission of forms will be assessed a late fee.



There is no required time interval between completion of the residency program and making application for examination. However, all residency training must be successfully completed before the date of the examination in any given year.

Application materials for the 2009 Written Examination will be available in the summer of 2008 on the ABOto web site at www.aboto.org and must be completed and postmarked by September 2, 2008. The application consists of the following:

  1. Resident Registry Evaluations, submitted annually by the Program Director.
  2. Applicants who have not participated in the Resident Registry through their residency program must provide an official certified medical school transcript, submitted directly to the ABOto by the institution. The transcript must show the date the degree was conferred. If the transcript is in a language other than English, the resident will subsequently be billed for translation expenses incurred by the ABOto.
  3. Residents entering otolaryngology training prior to July 1, 2005 must submit a Verification of Surgery/Verification of Additional Residencies Form to the ABOto by November 1 of the first year of otolaryngology training. Residents who entered training on or after July 1, 2005 and who have prior surgery residency training must submit the verification form to the ABOto by November 1 of the first year of otolaryngology training.
  4. Application Form, signed by the Program Director and the Program Chair.
  5. If more than one otolaryngology program was attended, a Verification of Otolaryngology Residency Form must be signed by the previous Program Director, attesting to satisfactory completion of training in that program.
  6. Verification of ALL licenses to practice medicine, showing non-restricted status and date of expiration of each. All applicants must submit evidence of medical licensure, with the following exceptions:
  7. Individuals who have completed residency training but who will enter a fellowship program utilizing an institutional license must submit a statement from the Program Director as evidence of this fact.
  8. Individuals who have completed residency training but who will go on to practice medicine in a foreign country not requiring licensure must make a written request to be accepted for the examination without medical license. Such requests must be submitted with the application.
  9. Operative Experience verification which must be signed by the Program Director and Resident.
  10. The applicant must possess high moral, ethical and professional qualifications as determined by, and in the sole discretion of, the Board. Additional information may be requested by the Board from the following: Federation of State Medical Boards, local medical society, board certified otolaryngologists from the geographical area in which the applicant practices, the director of the applicant's training program, hospital chiefs of staff, and/or other individuals and entities who may have knowledge of the applicant's moral and ethical standing, qualifications or abilities.
  11. Applications are approved by the Credentials Committee in October, and applicants are then notified if they have been approved for examination. The Board reserves the right to reject any application.

Applications are valid for one written exam and three oral exams. At the conclusion of this period, or upon failure of the written exam, the application expires, and the individual is required to submit new forms.

  1. The ABOto maintains the full, legal name of the applicant for its records. If, at any time after submission of the application, the legal name of the applicant changes due to marriage, divorce or other circumstances, the applicant must provide copies of the official documentation of the change. It is not possible to maintain two names (i.e., a legal name and a professional name) for any one individual. At the time of any examination, the name on the official identification (i.e., driver's license or passport) must match the name on record at the ABOto.




The objectives of the American Board of Otolaryngology (ABOto) with regard to subspecialty certification are:

1. To establish standards of qualification for otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeons who desire and request subspecialty certification.

2. To determine which subspecialty candidates fulfill these standards of qualification.

3. To examine such candidates and issue certificates upon satisfactory completion of requirements.

4. To encourage development and maintenance of the highest standards in the teaching and training of subspecialists.

The ABOto subspecialty certificate carries with it no legal qualification or license to practice medicine. There is no intention by the Board to interfere with or limit the professional activities of any licensed physician, whether certified or not. It is neither the intent nor the purpose of the Board to define requirements for membership on the staffs of hospitals or similar institutions or to confer special privileges upon its diplomates.

The Standard Pathway is open to ABOto diplomates in good standing who have satisfactorily completed an ACGME-accredited neurotology subspecialty residency program.



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