Past, Present & Future: Columbia & American Board of Neurological Surgery

The American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS), that’s who.
The ABNS is the group that creates and oversees all the certification tests for neurosurgeons. And 2015 is a big year–it marks the group’s 75th anniversary.
Columbia neurosurgeons Dr. Jeffrey Bruce and Dr. E. Sander Connolly, Jr. are honored to be two of the 14 directors of the ABNS this year. But this is not the first time that Columbia neurosurgery has had a presence on the board. In fact, at least one Columbia neurosurgeon has been on the ABNS board for more than a quarter of a century.
The first Columbia neurosurgeon to be appointed to the board was the late Dr. J. Lawrence Pool, in 1960. But Columbia neurosurgery’s “run” began in 1988. In that year, Dr. Ben Stein, then-chairman of the department, was elected a director. In the years to follow, Dr. Donald Quest, Dr. Robert Solomon, and Dr. Paul McCormick each served as ABNS directors. Among them, the doctors held just about every office: Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, and Director at Large.
Each director serves for six years on the Board of Directors, and then for another six years on an Advisory Council. So all in all, being a director of the ABNS represents a twelve-year commitment.
But it’s a commitment that many neurosurgeons are happy to make. Being a director means shaping the profession’s present and sharing in the stewardship of its future. For this reason, a list of past directors includes some of the biggest names in neurosurgery.
As the Secretary of ABNS for 2015, Dr. Bruce has some special roles. For example, he represented the ABNS at a health care meeting in Washington earlier this year. (Read a story about that here.) And for the group’s diamond anniversary, he is overseeing its transition to the silicon age.
Here’s how: the ABNS certifying exam has always been a paper-and-pencil test. To take it, people have had to travel to special testing centers, according to that center’s schedule. The exam is intensive to prepare for and to take, and doctors don’t just have to do it once. They take it the first time to become “board certified” neurosurgeons. But they must keep on taking the exam every several years to keep up their certification.
Under Dr. Bruce’s direction, the test will now be offered by computer. Whether doctors are testing for the first time or re-certifying, they will no longer have to travel to particular testing centers. Instead, they will be able to arrange to sit for a proctored exam on a convenient schedule, freeing up more time to practice medicine.
Seventy-five years ago, in 1940, the founders of ABNS would never have imagined a web-based certification exam. And they could only dream of treatments like the Gamma Knife, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, and minimally invasive spinal fusion.
But their dreams, research, and hard work helped to set the stage for doctors like Dr. Quest, Dr. Solomon, Dr. McCormick, Dr. Bruce, and Dr. Connolly. These doctors specialize in the techniques mentioned above. They are also pursuing research that will develop new treatments. Dr. Bruce, for example, is Director of the Bartoli Brain Tumor Research Laboratory, and Dr. Connolly is Director of the Cerebrovascular Research Laboratory.
Since its founding, the ABNS has certified more than 6,000 neurosurgeons. In that time, the organization’s leadership has passed through an unbroken succession of skilled and careful hands. Dr. Bruce and Dr. Connolly are honored to be the latest links in that chain. They look forward to doing their part to prepare the organization for the future of the profession–and for certifying its next 6,000 members.
Learn more about Dr. Bruce on his bio page here.
Learn more about Dr. Connolly on his bio page here.

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