With Which Board Should You Certify?

Mark Crane


April 09, 2010

In This Article

How Long Does the Certification Last?

Until fairly recently, certification lasted a lifetime. Once certified, most physicians hadn't been required to recertify to demonstrate their skills. Things changed about 10 years ago. That's true for doctors certified by ABMS boards and the AOA.

"There's been an evolution in specialty certification, a changing physician culture, so that initial certification has developed into a lifelong assessment process," says Kevin Weiss of the ABMS. "About 30% of our diplomates do maintain lifetime certification, but most of those doctors are in the latter stages of their careers and more and more doctors are enrolling to recertify. So the numbers with lifetime certification are rapidly decreasing."

Recertification by an ABMS board is now a requirement. Over the past 10 years, ABMS boards developed a Maintenance of Certification program, requiring proof of continuing medical education and experience in-between testing for recertification.

Maintenance of Certification requires proof that a physician has the practice-related knowledge to provide quality care in a particular specialty. The program lets physicians assess their own quality of care compared with peers and national benchmarks. It applies the best evidence or consensus recommendations to improve that care.

ABMS claims that its program results in greater efficiency, reduced malpractice premiums, fewer medical errors, and better communication and quality outcomes for patients. Maintenance of Certification is recognized as an important quality marker by insurers, hospitals, quality and credentialing organizations, and the federal government, ABMS says.

The AOA no longer grants lifetime certification, says Cheryl Gross, Director of the AOA Division of Certification. "Because certification should be a continuous, lifelong process that encourages development of skills and knowledge, all physicians are required to recertify based on the cycle determined by their specialty. This can range between 6 and 10 years," she says.

Tampa-based ABPS boasts that it has never offered lifetime certification. All of its diplomates must recertify every 8 years. It will accept candidates for recertification who are diplomates of both the AOA and ABMS boards. Additionally, it is the only multispecialty board to require that physicians complete a nonremedial medical ethics course as a condition of recertification.

One thing that hasn't changed: Board certification is an essential tool for physicians to demonstrate the education, skills, and experience needed to provide quality patient care in a given specialty.

The 3 largest certifying boards have different characteristics (Table).

Table. Snapshot of the 3 Largest Certifying Boards

Who they are Largest allopathic group of boards, established in 1933 Primarily osteopaths, established in 1897. Bureau of Osteopathic Specialist certifying boards established in 1939. Blends the approaches of both allopathic and osteopathic training. Parent group American Association of Physician Specialists established in 1950. ABPS certifying board established in 2005.
Number of board-certified physicians 750,000-plus 25,000-plus 5000-plus
Number of specialty boards 24 boards that includes 147 subspecialties 18 certifying boards 16 certifying boards
Acceptance issues Universally accepted by state medical boards, health plans, and hospitals DOs are recognized for the unlimited practice of medicine in all 50 states. Most insurance plans cover DOs. Accepted by most state medical boards. Some hospitals and health plans don't accept ABPS certification.
Recertification 30% of diplomates enjoy lifetime certification through "grandfathering." Newer physicians must recertify at least every 10 years. Maintenance of Certification program requires proof of continuing medical education and experience in-between testing for recertification. Lifetime certification is no longer granted. Physicians must recertify every 6-10 years, depending on the specialty. Never offered lifetime certification. Diplomates must recertify every 8 years.

ABMS = American Board of Medical Specialties; ABPS = American Board of Physician Specialties; AOA = American Osteopathic Association; DOs = doctors of osteopathy


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