What Does Board Certified Really Mean?

What’s all the hoopla about Board Certified Physicians? Is there a difference between Board Certified and Licensed Physicians? Let’s look at this in detail. To practice medicine in the United States, doctors must be licensed by the state in which they work. However, being licensed does not indicate whether a doctor is qualified to practice in a specific medical specialty. The only way to know if your physician is qualified to practice in a specialty is to find out if he or she is Board Certified in the respective specialty.

Board Certified Physicians voluntarily meet additional standards beyond basic licensing. They demonstrate their expertise by earning certification through one of the 24 Member Boards that are part of the not-for-profit American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), such as plastic surgery, cardiology and the like.

The requirements for Board Certification are rigorous. To become a Board Certified Physician one must:

• Hold an M.D. or D.O. degree
• Complete required 3+ years of training in an accredited residency program designed to train physicians in the given specialty.
• Rating performance by residency training directors or hospital chief-of-service where the specialist practiced
• Hold an unrestricted license from a state licensing board to practice medicine
• Passing a written examination given by the specialty board
• Depending on the specialty, logging a certain number of cases and passing an oral examination given by the specialty board

Each Physician earns initial Board Certification by passing a written exam created and administered by the Member Board of their specialty, meaning a board certified plastic surgeon has to have a specialty in plastic surgery. This is just the first step in the career-long learning and assessment process required by the ABMS. To maintain Board Certification, a Physician must actively keep pace with the latest advances in his or her specialty and demonstrate best practices for patient safety, communications and ethics.

Board Certification has both public and professional implications. The primary purpose of Board Certification of medical specialties is to assure the public of a Physician’s knowledge and skill. In organizations where Physicians work (i.e. hospitals) Board Certification is important in placing Physicians in an appropriate professional environment. Among colleagues, Board Certification has implications of professional quality and standing.

Buyer Beware

Just because a doctor is board certified does not mean that they are up-to-date with the latest advances in their specialty. Unfortunately, there are organizations that hand out certifications to those who may not be qualified. Be on the lookout for ‘quasi bogus’ boards making claims that they are the only board that tests a surgeon’s knowledge and experience. The problem is that with enough continuing education, a doctor can be an ObGyn, Internist, Pediatrician, Pathologist, family doctor or even an Anesthesiologist and meet the requirements to become Board Certified in any specialty, not just their own specialty. For example, a board certified plastic surgeon should be performing plastic surgery.

In order to tell if the certification board is legitimate you have to do some digging. Basically you want a board that is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. For your surgeon, you want them not just Board Certified, but Board Certified in their specialty. Before your surgery, visit abms.org or certificationmatters.org to find a Board Certified Surgeon.


Login or Register to add comments.