Frequently Asked Questions

Select a topic from the list below for related information. You also may email info@abms.org with specific questions.

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About ABMS | Other Boards and Certification | About ABMS Member Boards | About Board Certification | About Maintaining Certification | Verifying Physician Certification | Advice and Referrals | Complaints and Physician Disciplinary Action | For Researchers and Media | For Physicians

About ABMS

Description of ABMS

The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), a nationally recognized not-for-profit organization, serves the public and the medical profession by improving the quality of health care through setting professional standards for medical specialty practice and certification in partnership with its 24 certifying Member Boards.

Since its founding in 1933, ABMS has evolved these standards for board certification to support advancements in medicine, science, and technology, and changes in health care delivery processes. The standards and program guidelines set system-wide expectations and create consistency across the Member Boards. Working with other professional organizations and agencies, the Member Boards elevate the standards for patient care and care improvements across specialties. The focus on continuous professional development and participation in national initiatives translates into innovations in health care that improve the health of communities across the nation, and enhancements of the quality of care each patient receives.

Additionally, ABMS maintains a repository of certification information used by the public, health care organizations, educators, and researchers to verify a physician’s board certification status.

ABMS Initiatives

ABMS, in partnership with its Member Boards, advances quality care through a variety of programs and initiatives. We are always evolving and advancing the board certification program to keep physicians practicing at the forefront of medicine. We invite others to work with us in connecting physician specialists with discipline-specific learning modules, patient safety programs, quality improvement activities, and other educational and practice-based initiatives to support their professional development.

The programs include:

  • ABMS Portfolio Program™: recognizes physicians’ quality and safety improvement work for continuing certification.
  • ABMS Continuing Certification Directory™: helps connect board certified physicians with practice-relevant, accredited continuing medical certification activities for continuing certification.
  • ABMS Continuing Certification Reference Center: an online, searchable resource that highlights literature relevant to ABMS Member Board certification and continuous certification.
  • ABMS Visiting Scholars Program™: a one-year, part-time program that positions early-career physicians, and others with relevant advanced degrees, as future health leaders.
  • CertLink®: an innovative technology platform for the creation of online assessment programs that drive physician professional development and learning.
  • ABMS Research and Education Foundation (REF): a not-for-profit organization that supports the ABMS mission of improving health care quality and the continuous professional development of physician specialists through a variety of research and education initiatives.
  • ABMS International™: a global entity that provides support and adds value to selected governments and organizations around the world striving to set high standards for assessing and certifying medical specialists.

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Other Boards and Certification

Boards outside of ABMS

There are a number of non-ABMS and self-designated medical boards in the United States. Some have applied for ABMS membership and some have not. Applicant boards are reviewed and accepted jointly by ABMS and the American Medical Association Council on Medical Education after initial review by Liaison Committee for Specialty Boards. ABMS monitors and takes action against any board claiming to be an ABMS Member Board and any individual wrongfully claiming to be certified by an ABMS board.

Please note that neither ABMS, nor any of its boards, is affiliated with BoardCertified LLC. Subscription to or payment of any fees to Boardcertified.com or BoardCertified LLC will not affect any diplomate's certification status with their specialty board or listing in the ABMS database.

Unless the board is recognized by ABMS, we do not have information about its particular requirements for certification and cannot provide certification verification.

Certification of Doctors of Osteopathy (DO)

If a physician’s post-graduate training is osteopathic, then he or she is only eligible to take the exams administered by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). To be eligible to take a certification exam given by an ABMS Member Board, a DO must complete residency training program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Osteopathic physicians may choose to be certified by an ABMS specialty board AND an approved AOA specialty board. For more information about osteopathic medicine visit the American Osteopathic Association website.

Certification of podiatrists, dentists, oral surgeons or chiropractors

Practitioners of these professions are not certified through an ABMS Member Board. Each of these professions has their own certifying bodies. These individuals can be located through their appropriate professional organization.

Certification of cosmetic surgeons and ABMS

ABMS Member Boards do not certify cosmetic surgeons, though several boards evaluate and certify specialists as qualified to perform some types of plastic or aesthetic (cosmetic) surgery. Contact the ABMS Member Board directly to determine if its physicians are qualified in a specific procedure.

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About ABMS Member Boards

Member Boards of ABMS

The 24 ABMS Member Boards include: American Board of Allergy and Immunology, American Board of Anesthesiology, American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery, American Board of Dermatology, American Board of Emergency Medicine, American Board of Family Medicine, American Board of Internal Medicine, American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics, American Board of Neurological Surgery, American Board of Nuclear Medicine, American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Board of Ophthalmology, American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, American Board of Pathology, American Board of Pediatrics, American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Board of Plastic Surgery, American Board of Preventive Medicine, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, American Board of Radiology, American Board of Surgery, American Board of Thoracic Surgery and American Board of Urology.

Approved specialty and subspecialty certificates

Click here for a list of the specialty and subspecialty certificates offered by the boards. Click on the name of the specialty to read a description for each of these areas of medicine.

New subspecialties are considered through application to and review by ABMS. The area of specialization being considered should focus on a distinct and definable patient population, a definable type of care need, a “stand alone” body of medical knowledge or unique care principles solely to meet the needs of that patient population. It should clearly demonstrate its value in improving access, quality, and coordination of care.

Approval of new Member Boards

New specialty boards are approved jointly by action of ABMS and the American Medical Association Council on Medical Education, following a review by the Liaison Committee for Specialty Boards. A proposed new board must meet specific criteria regarding the methods and standards used to evaluate physician training, skills, and competence for issuing certification.

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About Board Certification

Importance of board certification and maintaining certification

Certification by an ABMS Member Board helps demonstrate to the public that a physician meets nationally recognized standards for education, knowledge, experience, and skills and maintains their certification through continuous learning and practice improvement in order to provide high quality care in a specific medical specialty or subspecialty.

Description of a board certified diplomate

A physician who has met all the requirements for certification and has passed the certifying examination given by an ABMS Member Board is considered a diplomate of that board.

Difference between board certification and medical licensure

All physicians in the United States must be licensed in order to practice medicine, but they are not required to be certified. A license is issued by the physician’s state medical board. Certification requirements go above and beyond licensing requirements. It is not overseen by state regulatory boards. Earning and maintaining certification through an ABMS Member Board, represents a physician’s commitment to continually expand and refresh his or her knowledge and expertise in a particular medical specialty or subspecialty.

Standards guiding the board certification process

Developed by practicing physicians and based on research and physician expertise, the standards and competencies for board certification describe what accomplished specialty physicians should know and do to have a positive impact on patient care. Through board certification, ABMS Member Boards identify physicians who meet those standards.

The standards are specialty specific, going beyond those required for state licensure. They provide a foundation for the board certification process and incorporate core competencies integral to quality patient care. These are: practice-based learning and improvement, patient care and procedural skills, systems-based practice, medical knowledge, interpersonal and communication skills, and professionalism.

Physicians meet the Standards for Initial Certification in order to become board certified. Additional Standards for the ABMS Program for MOC guide the process of ongoing assessment and learning over the course of a physician’s career. The standards are designed to help physicians maintain up-to-date knowledge, enhance quality clinical outcomes and promote patient safety. They also help the ABMS Member Boards create assessment and evaluation systems, select learning programs and improvement activities, and pioneer new pathways for physicians to learn the latest innovations in their specialty.

Our community of Member Boards evaluates the standards, incorporating advances in technology and science, and changes to regulation and delivery systems, to ensure that board certification is a rigorous, yet flexible, process that continues to evolve and meet the needs of physicians and their varied practices.

Process for board certification

Before physician specialists can practice medicine, they must meet the requirements for medical licensure. Licensure is a mandatory credential granted by a state providing legal permission to practice medicine. Physicians must have a license in the state(s) they intend to practice.

In order to become board certified, physicians must first:

  • Finish four years of premedical education in a college or university;
  • Earn a medical degree (MD, DO or other credential approved by an ABMS Member Board) from a qualified medical school;
  • Complete three to seven years of full-time experience in a residency training program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME);
  • Provide letters of attestation from their program director and/or faculty;
  • Obtain an unrestricted medical license to practice medicine in the United States or Canada; and
  • Pass a written and, in some cases, an oral examination created and administered by an ABMS Member Board.

A similar eligibility process is followed for certified specialists seeking subspecialty certification. Candidates must be certified by their specialty board, then complete additional training during or after residency and successfully complete assessments of knowledge and clinical judgment in their subspecialty discipline before being granted certification in a subspecialty.

Additional requirements may need to be met by graduates of international medical programs before being allowed to sit for a certification examination. Check with the particular specialty board for more information.

Description of board eligibility

ABMS defines board eligibility as the period of time between when a physician completes an accredited residency program and when initial certification in a specialty is achieved. On January 1, 2012 ABMS established its Board Eligibility Policy which places limits on this time period. The policy recognizes physicians’ need to use the term board eligible as a way to signal their preparations for specialty certification. At the same time, it closes off the potential for abuse through use of the term indefinitely.

ABMS Member Boards with an existing board eligibility policy aligned their board eligible periods with the principles of the established ABMS policy. Member Boards that did not have an existing policy in place established a board eligible period of three 3 to 7 years for physicians to achieve initial certification following successful completion of accredited training plus time (if any) in practice. Additionally, the boards established transition dates for physician candidates who had completed training, but not yet achieved initial certification in a specialty as of the ABMS policy’s effective date. Those boards chose a date between January 1, 2015 - January 1, 2019 for candidates to achieve initial certification.

Each board's transition dates can vary. See ABMS Board Eligibility Policies FAQs[PDF] document (May 2020 update).

When a physician does not achieve initial certification within the board eligibility period, that physician must cease from representing him / herself as being board eligible. The physician must again complete all requirements of the specialty board before admissibility to the certification examination.

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About Continuing Certification

Continuing certification

Physicians are intrinsically motivated to enhance the efficiency and efficacy of their practice. The higher standards of board certification reflect the spirit of quality improvement—inspiring creative thinking, modern ingenuity, healthy curiosity and a sincere desire to help every patient. They help physicians maintain up-to-date knowledge, enhance clinical outcomes and promote patient safety.

The career-long process of ABMS board certification encourages physicians to uphold the dignity and honor of their profession by integrating knowledge, skill and ethical choices in ways that shape their professional lives and help them provide optimal patient care.

The ongoing assessment process fosters a community of learners, helping physicians renew their knowledge, identify areas for learning, and connect with resources to retool their skills.

ABMS, in partnership with its Member Boards, advances quality care through a variety of programs and initiatives. We are always evolving and advancing the board certification program to keep physicians practicing at the forefront of medicine. We invite others to work with us in connecting physician specialists with discipline-specific learning modules, patient safety programs, quality improvement activities, and other educational and practice-based initiatives to support their professional development.

Checking a physician's certification status

By meeting the requirements for board certification and continuing certification, a physician who is certified by an ABMS Member Board formally demonstrates his or her commitment to lifelong learning and ongoing self-evaluation, and is engaged in measuring and improving their practice in a medical specialty. The physician’s certifying board(s) determines whether or not he or she is meeting its board certification requirements.

Information about a physician’s board certification status can be checked through the ABMS online verification service, CertificationMatters.org . Professional inquiries are handled by ABMS Solutions which offer products and services that are best suited for Primary Source Verification.

You also can call the physician’s certifying board(s) directly for more information.

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Verifying Physician Certification

ABMS message to credentialers regarding ABIM MOC announcement

In February 2015, ABIM introduced changes to its Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program and its certification status reporting processes which could affect your credentialing procedures. These changes are an extension of ABIM’s Board of Directors decision in January 2014, to no longer issue certificates with end dates because of the continuous activities it now requires for physicians to maintain their certification.

Recognizing that some entities may still require current certification status to complete Primary Source Verification, ABIM encourages all credentialers and medical staff professionals to utilize its new annual re-verification date of April 1 to obtain the most accurate information about an ABIM diplomate’s current certification status. For those physicians certified prior to January 2014, the ABMS Certification Profile will continue to display their certification date. The profile will be updated to an MOC certificate when the physician’s current certificate expires.

ABIM created a Credentialer’s page on its website at abim.org/credentialers. You also may contact ABMS Solutions at (800) 733-2267 with any questions.

Checking a physician's certification (for personal use)

The ABMS online verification service is available through CertificationMatters.org for personal use to research physicians’ certification status.

Medical staff professionals needing board certification data for Primary Source Verification (PSV), should contact ABMS Solutions. Information obtained through Certification Matters is not for PSV and should not be used for professional credentialing needs.

Verifying a physician’s certification (for professional use)

ABMS Solutions oversees the licensing of online product solutions for Primary Source Verification (PSV) of a physician’s certification. These resources allow hospitals and health systems as well as attorneys, insurance groups, and other professionals to check physicians’ records quickly, conveniently, and securely. The ABMS Solutions product offering includes annual subscription services, flexible search packages, and linkages direct to specific credentialing software platforms.

Depending on the product chosen, data can include certification effective and expiration dates, historical information of certifications, as well as meeting requirements for continuing certification (MOC).

Certification data offered by ABMS Solutions complies with all PSV requirements as set by the Joint Commission, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, and URAC. ABMS Solutions meets these rigorous requirements through the secure and timely reporting of credentialing information.

Primary source information needed (PSV)

ABMS Solutions oversees the licensing of online product solutions for Primary Source Verification (PSV) of a physician’s certification. These resources are for professional use to check physicians’ records quickly, conveniently, and securely.

Board certification data from the ABMS database, which includes dates, meet all PSV requirements as set by The Joint Commission, the National Committee for Quality Assurance and URAC for the secure and timely reporting of credentialing information. This is the only online resource that is updated daily with physician certification information from the 24 ABMS certifying Member Boards.

Checking that a physician is participating in continuing certification (MOC)

Beginning in 2012, ABMS began to make available publicly whether physicians who are certified by an ABMS Member Board are meeting the continuing certification (MOC) requirements to maintain their certification. ABMS Solutions offers professionals various products and services for Primary Source Verification. You also can call the physician’s certifying board(s) directly for more information.

The display resulting from a search includes the status of all the physician’s individual specialty (and subspecialty, if any) certificates. For each specialty and subspecialty certificate listed, either a “Yes”, “No” or “Not Required” response is given as to whether that physician is participating in the continuing certification (MOC) program of his or her specialty board(s). A display of “No” could indicate that the physician has chosen not to fulfill continuing certification (MOC) requirements for that certificate. A display of “Not Required” means that certification was achieved in that specialty before the certifying board established its continuing certification (MOC) program, and therefore continuing certification (MOC) program participation is not required. If continuing certification (MOC) status information is missing from the display, it could mean that the physician’s certifying board(s) has not yet made available his or her continuing certification (MOC) status to ABMS. As each board has specific requirements, it is always best practice to check with the individual ABMS Member Board.

Verifying the certification of a physician with Canadian specialties certification

In this instance, contact the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. This group can respond to specific inquiries to confirm that a doctor is certified as a specialist and the year of certification.

How to find out if a physician has practiced in another state

Please contact the state medical board or the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) DocInfo service. This service provides professional information on physicians and physician assistants licensed in the United States including information on disciplinary sanctions, education, medical specialty, licensure history, and locations. Contact FSMB at (817) 868-4000.

Frequency of database updates

The information in the ABMS certification database is supplied by the Member Boards according to their established schedule. The database is refreshed daily but occurs only after the information received from the Member Boards is thoroughly reviewed and verified by ABMS for completeness and accuracy. Once this process is complete, the information is incorporated into the database and made accessible through ABMS Solutions’ products and ABMS licensee partners. The information is displayed within the ABMS Board Certification Credentials Profile, which is officially recognized as primary source documentation by the Joint Commission, NCQA, URAC and other key accrediting agencies.

  • In the case of newly certified physicians, the certifying Member Board submits information within two weeks of when the physician is formally notified or the physician’s certification status is publicly displayed.
  • Information about a physician’s MOC status is provided by the certifying Member Board according to their established MOC cycle.
  • Physicians also may make a request of their certifying Member Board to update personal information in their record, such as a name change or home or business address. The Member Board provides this information to ABMS.

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Advice and Referrals

Physician recommendation or referral

Unfortunately, this is not a service provided by ABMS. Some possible resources are your insurance company or the physician referral service at your local medical center.

Medical correction question

Unfortunately, we do not have physicians on staff who can answer your question. We recommend you consult your primary care physician.

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Complaints and Physician Disciplinary Actions

Filing a complaint against a physician

To file a complaint against a physician, contact your state medical board. The Directory of State Medical and Osteopathic Boards can be accessed from the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) website.

How to find out if a physician has any disciplinary actions against him or her

This information can be found by accessing the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) DocInfo service. It provides professional information on physicians and physician assistants licensed in the United States including information on disciplinary sanctions, education, medical specialty, licensure history and locations.

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For Researchers and Media

Obtaining a quote from an ABMS spokesperson

Please contact the ABMS Associate Vice President of Communications at (312) 436-2624.

Where to find information on ABMS board certification

The ABMS Board Certification Report reflects recently analyzed information and data about the certification programs administered by the ABMS Member Boards. Please contact our Marketing and Communications team at (312) 436-2600.

Permission to reprint information from publications or link to the ABMS website

Please contact our Marketing and Communications team at (312) 436-2600.

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For Physicians

Requirements for board certification

Each ABMS Member Board has different requirements and it is best to contact the particular board directly. Generally speaking, candidates for initial Board Certification must:

  • Finish four years of premedical education in a college or university;
  • Earn a medical degree (MD, DO or other credential approved by an ABMS Member Board) from a qualified medical school;
  • Complete three to seven years of full-time experience in a residency training program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education;
  • Provide letters of attestation from the program director and/or faculty; and
  • Obtain an unrestricted medical license to practice medicine in the United States or Canada.

Candidates for initial certification must then pass an exam created and administered by their specialty’s board. A similar eligibility process is followed for certified specialists seeking subspecialty certification. Candidates must be certified by their specialty board, then complete additional training during or after residency and successfully complete assessments of knowledge and clinical judgment in their subspecialty discipline before being granted certification in a subspecialty.

Exam dates

Each ABMS Member Board has different requirements and it is best to contact the particular board directly.

Taking certification exam during residency

Each ABMS Member Board has different requirements. Most doctors begin the certification process at some point during their residency training. Check with the specific ABMS Member Board for requirement details.

Obtaining a copy of a certificate or replacing a lost certificate

To receive a copy or replacement, contact the Member Board that issued the original certificate.

How physicians can change information in their personal profile

If you are a physician and have changes to make to your profile, please contact your Member Board. Please ask that the information you provide be given to ABMS to update its database.

Applying current certification from another country to ABMS Member Board certification

Each ABMS Member Board has different requirements and it is best to contact the particular board directly.

Requirements for certification for foreign trained students

To find out the requirements, contact the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates at (215) 386-5900.

Requirements for foreign students to attend a medical college or enter graduate medical training in the United States

Contact the Association of American Medical Colleges for information on United States medical schools. To learn about residency training, contact the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.

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