Physician Board Certification Defined

Physician Board CertificationWhile the term physician board certification is a familiar part of the vernacular to those in the medical profession, the average consumer might have, at best, only a vague notion of what it actually means for a physician to become board certified – and why it is important.

The American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) is one of three nationally recognized multi-specialty certifying bodies in the United States. Part of our mission is to educate the public and other members of the medical community about physician board certification, which we define as a voluntary process that indicates a practicing physician’s mastery of the core body of knowledge and skills in his or her chosen specialty at a specific time. This is different, of course, from the required medical license.

The ABPS believes that in order to accurately measure a physician’s mastery and knowledge, test development should be as rigorous as possible. The Member Boards of the ABPS also maintain eligibility requirements that reflect the organization-wide commitment to recognizing the accomplishments of competent, respected, career physicians in the fields of the medical specialties for which we provide physician board certification.

Although the eligibility requirements for physician board certification differ among the various Member Boards, at minimum, the ABPS Member Boards require that physicians have:

  • An undergraduate college degree
  • Four years of medical school
  • Substantial, identifiable training such as a three- to five-year residency in an ACGME accredited program and several years of experience and proven competencies in the specific specialty or sub-specialty
  • A license to practice medicine

Nearly as important as the initial achievement of physician board certification is an ongoing commitment to periodic recertification and a willingness to adhere to a code of ethics and professionalism that all Member Boards should expect from their physicians. The medical field, no matter what specialty, is constantly evolving. A physician’s credentials should always reflect a dedication to continuing medical education in his or her area or areas of expertise, and mastery of that newly gained knowledge requires recertification.

It is incumbent upon the three most prestigious certifying bodies in the U.S. to help educate consumers about board certification. Consumers should be made aware of the credentials and credibility of the different board certification bodies, and ask if the organization is a 501(c)6 non-profit, if it has an established national headquarters, and if it has a staff of more than 10 full-time employees. These and other factors support the credibility of a board certifying body, and the three largest – the ABPS, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) – set the highest, most rigorous standards in the nation.

To learn more about physician board certification and why it is important to consumers, contact the ABPS. The ABPS is the official certifying body of the American Association of Physician Specialists, Inc.

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Medical organizations throughout North America understand that our rigorous certification standards prove that ABPS Diplomates are capable of delivering the best patient care possible.

Personal challenge and motivation compelled me to pass my ABPS board exam. Measurement and confirmation of my own knowledge base reinforced my self-confidence. The ABPS, with its history of inclusivity, has allowed me to have a voice in the organization, while permitting me to impact overall national patient safety and care through certification. Participation in exam development afforded me the opportunity to witness the rigorousness of the exam process and psychometrically sound product, while developing meaningful collegiality, professional life enrichment, and warding off burn out.

Elizabeth Maxwell-Schmidt MD, FAAEP, FACEP
Emergency Medicine
Board certification through the American Board of Physician Specialties has served to substantiate my interest and additional training in several fields of medicine including Internal Medicine, Disaster Medicine, and Administrative Medicine. As a result, I have been able to serve my community in clinical, disaster response, and administrative medicine roles. Through the ABPS, I have become recognized as a leader in my various fields of interest.

Spencer Price MD, MPH, MBA
Internal Medicine, Disaster Medicine, Administrative Medicine
BCEM certification through ABPS has provided me with many opportunities. It has helped me demonstrate that I have special experience and expertise in Emergency Medicine beyond that obtained through my family medicine training. BCEM certification firmly established me as an emergency medicine specialist once I started working in emergency medicine full time. ABPS has also helped me network with other family physicians with a passion for improving rural and underserved emergency medicine practice.

Alex Beuning, MD, FAAEP
Emergency Medicine