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Resident Physician Forum
November 17, 1999

Tips on Board Certification and Recertification

Author Affiliations

Prepared by Janice Robertson, Department of Young Physician Services, American Medical Association.

JAMA. 1999;282(19):1882. doi:10.1001/jama.282.19.1882

Increasingly, hospitals and managed care organizations are requiring that staff physicians be certified by a specialty board. The American Medical Association (AMA) encourages medical students and resident physicians to learn about specialty board certification, including the process, requirements for initial certification and recertification, and the implications of not achieving board certification. Advance planning in the certification process is critical for success.

When the first nationally recognized medical specialty board was established in 1917, board certification was seen as a way for professional peers to grant formal recognition of a physician's qualifications in a chosen field. Then, as now, it was a voluntary process. However, board certification is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity to gain credentialing privileges on hospital staffs and participate in managed care plans. In addition, nearly every board has begun issuing time-limited certificates, thus requiring recertification every so many years.

Each specialty board establishes its own certification process and requirements. When reviewing the requirements, students and residents should consider the following questions:

  • Is your residency training program accredited? Does training in a nonaccredited program count toward board certification requirements?

  • Can you receive credit for training completed outside the United States?

  • What happens if you switch to another program?

  • What impact do absences during residency training, such as family leave, vacations, and other time off, have on board certification?

  • What impact does physician impairment have on board certification?

  • How soon can you take the board examination?

  • What additional training/expertise is needed for certification?

  • Is an unrestricted medical license required?

  • What is the deadline for application into the certification process?

  • How much does certification cost?

  • How many opportunities does a physician have to certify?

  • If you fail to certify within a given period of time, is additional training necessary?

  • Are there different ways to become certified?

  • What is the pass-fail rate for the board examination?

  • What happens if you lose your board certification?

  • What impact does noncertification in your specialty have?

  • How often must one recertify?

The AMA Young Physicians Section has prepared a booklet, Board Certification: What Students and Residents Need to Know, which summarizes each board's requirements, pass-fail rates, contact information, and other important information. The booklet includes information about other organizations that can provide information about the certification process and the available choices. The AMA hopes that the information provided will help students make informed choices about their area of medical specialization and assist resident physicians through the process. More information can be obtained by contacting the specialty board directly.

The booklet is free to AMA members; for a copy, call the AMA-Young Physicians Section at (312) 464-4978. It can also be found on the AMA's members-only Web site at,1120,215,FF.html.