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.

ABPS Certification: Rigorous Testing As a True Measurement of Expertise

The ABPS believes that in order to accurately measure a physician’s mastery and knowledge, certification testing should be rigorous. In addition to rigorous standards, 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 their medical specialties.

Eligibility Requirements for ABPS 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.

What to Know About Physician Certification Boards

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.

Reasons to Seek Certification Through the ABPS

As you consider your board certification options, take note of these important aspects of the ABPS:

  • We offer 12 Member Boards that certify in a range of specialties, including established fields like family medicine and internal medicine, as well as emerging areas like integrative medicine and interventional pain management.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Handbook now lists the ABPS as a recognized option for board certification.
  • Many state medical boards recognize ABPS as meeting their rigorous standards through explicit acknowledgment in their regulations.
  • Our certification exams, procedures, and protocols are clinically, psychometrically, and legally robust, on par with those of ABMS and AOA.
  • Prominent credentialing organizations like Greely, HCPro, and NAMSS endorse ABPS as a legitimate choice for physician certification.

To learn more about physician board certification and why it is important to consumers, contact the ABPS.

Save the Date
House of Delegates & Annual Scientific Meeting
Innovation & Overcoming Challenges
June 10-15, 2022
Patient Care Is Our Priority

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

On October 18, 2007, President George W. Bush released Homeland Security Presidential Directive 21 (HSPD-21), calling on our nation, among other initiatives, to “collectively support and facilitate the establishment of a discipline of disaster health”. It is a great testament to the wisdom and foresight of the American Board of Physician Specialties that it immediately set to work and created, within the short span of only one year, an educational blueprint and set of certification examinations, both written and oral, for a new subspecialty of disaster medicine—and it is why I chose to be part this vital initiative and this wonderful organization. This is but one of the many innovative programs initiated by the American Board of Physician Specialties over the years, and why I am proud to support its work on behalf of our nation’s public health.

Art Cooper, MD
Disaster Medicine
When the American Board of Physician Specialties offered to host the American Board of Integrative Medicine, ABPS became a landmark organization working to move medicine into the twenty first century. Certifying physicians who have completed rigorous academic training in Integrative Medicine ensures that the field of Integrative Medicine will continue to develop academically, clinically, and professionally. The leadership of ABPS continues to impress me - they are diligent in constantly innovating to provide certifications for physicians who want to advance their careers and their areas of expertise. I am honored to be a part of this organization.

Ann Marie Chiasson, MD
Integrative Medicine
There are many ways board certification advances a physician career. ABPS Board examination verifies your accuracy, precision, and reflects your mastery of your residency training verifying your expertise. ABPS Board certification demonstrates your level of expertise beyond your practice experience, primary education degrees, and training which are necessary for insurance reimbursement and practice privilege requirements. Attaining your ABPS Board Certification will clarify your purpose, secure your practice growth, and expand into leadership positions. Board certification can serve as an indication of a physician’s commitment to medicine, beyond the minimal standards and competency of training, their measurement to quality of care, and attaining an award for excellence.

Chris Kunis MD
Internal Medicine
When I think historically, advancement in medicine and patient safety and care has been driven by the diversity of people and scientific thought. That’s what I found at the ABPS and more. For over 60 years that is just who we are. I found a physician certifying body that provides a choice and voice to all physicians ensuring that patients are always placed first.

Jerry Allison, MD
Emergency Medicine
When I decided to pursue a full time role as a physician executive it was important to me to obtain additional professional training, education and work experience. Board certification through the ABPS in Administrative Medicine is validation of my efforts and a demonstration of dedication to professional development. We need more physicians to become full time health care executives, knowing there is a board certification option in Administrative Medicine encourages physicians to take the leap from full time clinical practice to healthcare organizational leadership.

Richard Paula, MD
Administrative Medicine
The American Board of Physician Specialties has provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of internal medicine through board certification. As a hospitalist, board certification is an expected credential, and hospitals recognize the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) as one of the three standard credentialling bodies for Internal Medicine. Additionally, the ABPS has helped me develop leadership skills as a Board member and Committee Chairperson. ABPS has also helped me sharpen critical thinking skills as a test question developer and reviewer. The Allopathic (MD) and Osteopathic (DO) physicians in the ABPS are lifelong learners and frequently pursue multiple board certifications. I enjoy the camaraderie of my peers in ABPS.

Loren Jay Chassels, DO
Internal Medicine