The AGD Fellowship Examination

  • by Larry Stanleigh, BSc, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD, FPFA
  • Dec 18, 2017, 08:00 AM

I grew up in Toronto. Even though I, as of recently, have lived in Calgary for more years than I lived in Toronto, if you cut me I still bleed blue (for the Toronto Maple Leafs … and the Blue Jays, Argonauts, and even the non-blue Raptors). Back then, Ontario still had a grade 13. And since I did not get into dentistry earlier, it was not until I completed my master’s degree that I gained entry to Dental School at the University of Toronto. By the time I graduated in 1987, I had completed 23 years of formal education. I like telling kids that I finished grade 23.

I love to learn, but the only way to ensure we have gained knowledge is to demonstrate that proficiency via testing. After 23 years of testing, I was done. I struggled with Attention Deficit Disorder (an issue I still struggle with today and only learned I had while I was in my late 40s), so I was happy to not take another test while my thirst for more knowledge continued.

I knew that general dentistry was my future. I enjoy the variety of what we get to do, and coupled with the fact I had no more enthusiasm or patience for the formal education of specialization, I was content and happy with my choice. There were many dentists and professors who talked about the need for continuing education after graduation (in the 1980s, it had not yet been mandated to maintain licensure), and as a general dentist, I was strongly encouraged to consider joining AGD. They told me about the Fellowship program, that it had been in place for many years and had gained recognition worldwide as a prestigious demonstration of a continued commitment to advancing ourselves as general dentists.

It all made sense to me, and I joined AGD upon graduation. The requirements for achieving Fellowship seemed reasonable. It required a sustained commitment to continuing education in a wide variety of subject matter in dentistry, a commitment to AGD as a member, and a test of our continued competency in all aspects of dentistry. I reached those first two requirements in fairly short order, but that test? That was my barrier. Just thinking about taking the test created levels of anxiety. I was busy. I had a young family and a small business/practice I was trying to grow (and did), and there just was not time in my schedule to study (at least that is what I repeatedly told myself).

Over the years, I was awarded honorary fellowships in four organizations, and that really cemented the idea in my head that I needed to take the steps to complete the last requirement to actually earn the Fellowship from AGD.

In 2016, I resolved that 2017 would be the year. AGD helps us now with a two-day, intensive Fellowship Review Course. Given that I had to travel to attend the Course, I decided to take it and follow it up by taking the Exam at the AGD Scientific Session in Las Vegas. After completing my registration and paying the appropriate fees, I then told other people close to me about my plans for the Exam so that they could help me stay on track and do what I said I was going to do. I wanted to stay accountable to myself.

Oh, it was hard. In the intervening months, I received the Course and Fellowship Exam preparation materials from AGD, including a really great study guide with an example test to get an idea of format and material required. I tested myself by taking the example test before I studied to see how I did. I did not do well.

In 2014, I had sold my practice and was working as a full-time associate. But the person who bought my practice and I were not getting along. In May 2017, it was clear my presence was no longer desired, and I was asked to leave at the end of June. The AGD Scientific Session and Fellowship Exam were in July. As emotionally wrenching as leaving the practice (and the team, and the patients who were like family to me … and who still are today too) was for me, this was the opportunity I needed.

I took one week off to prepare. I used the study guides, reviewed the materials, and went back to the basics. It was great to have my knowledge reinforced. Then I went to Vegas. I stayed at Caesars Palace, where the convention was being held, and had a nice room with a good desk for working and studying.

The Fellowship Review Course was everything I hoped it would be. Well organized by Kris Abed-Canchola, who is the manager of examinations and self-instruction for AGD, the lecturers were all esteemed colleagues from various branches of the U.S. Military. They were all great, bringing humor, wit, experience and wisdom to the lectures. They made us aware, based on the content of Fellowship Exams in previous years, of what kind of knowledge AGD expected us to have. We were also provided with digital copies of the lecture slides and between those two days of intensive lectures, the study materials provided, and the time I took before leaving for study I had invested a full week of time (about 60 hours) to study and prepare. The day came for me to finally write my Fellowship exam.

Kris Abed-Canchola was one tough cookie. She made it very clear that cheating of any kind would simply not be tolerated. The consequences would be severe if we were caught. It was a fair and reasonable set of requests and expectations. AGD takes earning Fellowship seriously, and therefore the test had to be of the utmost quality to ensure validity.

It was the hardest test I have ever taken (at least of what I can remember). It was four hours long, and I finished with 10 minutes to spare. Most of my colleagues were still at their desks writing when the exam was completed.

And then the waiting began. Taking the Exam written at the annual AGD Scientific Session means taking the newest version of the Exam for the first time. The Exam committee then looks at all of the dentists’ results and decides if specific questions need to be revised or eliminated. Then the results are re-examined in light of these changes. This whole process can take weeks, given the number of people involved. We were told it would be eight to ten weeks after the exam before we would know the results.

Once this Exam is finalized, AGD will be able to provide the results quickly, if not instantly, for the remainder of the year, until the next Scientific Session (in June 2018 in New Orleans).

Ten weeks later I received my results. I honestly did not feel confident that I had done well. It was a hard exam, and given the fact that so many of our colleagues were still in the room when time was called, I assume it was hard for them, too. I was prepared for bad news and resolved that I would retake the Examination at my earliest opportunity. I opened the envelope with trepidation, shaking with anticipation. I was met with relief, surprise and great delight when I learned that I had not only passed but my marks were 30 percent above the mean. I was thrilled beyond belief.

And now I have applied to receive the first Fellowship I will have earned. I hope to receive my Fellowship in AGD at the Scientific Session in New Orleans in June 2018. I have been informed that I will know if this application is accepted by March 2018. It will be the most prestigious thing I will have accomplished since graduating from dental school in 1987.

I have completed the requirements to earn Fellowship from AGD. I have done this for myself, and not for self-promotion. I am just thrilled.

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