Board Certification

What is Board Certification? Many physicians claim to be board certified, but what does that really mean? Is your doctor truly who he or she represents himself or herself to be? Has the doctor trained to be a surgeon? Even those in the medical
profession can be confused and may struggle to answer this question.

After medical school, most physician will spend several years specializing in a particular area of medicine. The length of this training or residency depends on the field. Surgical disciplines typically have longer residency training than non surgical fields.

As an example, I spent a total of eight years training after medical school- six years in general surgery and two years in plastic surgery. At the completion of this training, one is eligible to take additional exams to become board certified. I have elected to certify in both plastic surgery and surgery. Every decade I need to recertify in each field.

The American Board of Medical Specialties is a not-for-profit organization formed in 1933. The ABMS assists the 24 approved medical specialty boards in the development and use of standards in the ongoing evaluation and certification of physicians. The ABMS, recognized as the “gold standard” in physician certification, believes higher standards for physicians means better care for patients.

Here’s the tricky part. Not all boards require this rigorous process. There are over a 100 “boards” out there other than those under the ABMS umbrella. Is it confusing to the patient? Absolutely.

How can a patient sort through this? One option is to go to the ABMS site and verify that your physician is certified in the proper field in which he or she is practicing.

Another alternative is to determine if the physician has privileges to perform the operation at a hospital. Hospital generally have standards which limit a physician only to perform procedures based on his or her training. The hospital has an interest in making sure that patients are safe.

Despite the government focus on patient safety in the hospital setting, there has been limited interest in taking on quality issues in the office setting. Remember-- Buyer beware!