American Board of Medical Specialties

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American Board of Medical Specialties
Abms logo top.gif
Abbreviation ABMS
Motto Higher Standards. Better Care.
Formation 1933
Type Professional association
Headquarters Chicago, IL
Official language
Thomas E. Norris, M.D.
Valerie M. Parisi, M.D.
John G. Clarkson, M.D.
Lois Margaret Nora, M.D., J.D., M.B.A.

American Board of Medical Specialties

Certification Matters

Established in 1933, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is a non-profit organization of approved medical boards (officially referred to as the "Member Boards" (see below), which represent 24 broad areas of specialty medicine. ABMS is the largest physician-led specialty certification organization in the United States.[1]

ABMS Member Boards have maintained a rigorous process for the evaluation and Board certification of medical specialists. They certify specialists in more than 150 medical specialties and subspecialties. More than 80 percent of practicing physicians in the United States have achieved Board Certification by one or more of the ABMS Member Boards. The Member Boards support lifelong learning by physicians through the ABMS Maintenance of Certification (ABMS MOC) program. ABMS also collaborates with other professional medical organizations and agencies[vague] to set standards for graduate medical school education and accreditation of residency programs. ABMS makes information available to the public about the Board Certification of physicians and their participation in the ABMS MOC program.

Board Certification must be remembered to be a voluntary process by the physician. Board certified and non-board certified physicians attend the same residency training programs, carry exactly the same medical licensure, attend the same medical schools, and have the same rights and privileges. Joining a medical board is through a combination of a voluntary test and membership application. In many ways this is similar to joining a union. Currently there exists a large controversy over the subjective difference between a "Board Certified Physician" and a "Non-Board Certified Physician." The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons recently (April 2013) sued the ABMS over its Maintenance of Certification practices as unconstitutional and creating a restraint of trade while decreasing patient access.


Since 1934, specialty boards were considered for membership in ABMS according to the standards set in the "Essentials for Approval of Examining Boards in Medical Specialties" created by ABMS and the American Medical Association Council on Medical Education (AMA/CME). In 1948, these efforts were formalized through the establishment of the Liaison Committee for Specialty Boards (LCSB), which is made up of representatives from ABMS and AMA/CME. Broadly stated, a medical specialty examining board must:

1. represent a distinct and well-defined field of medical practice;

2. solely offer a single standard of preparation for and evaluation of expertise;

3. offer distinct training to meet certification requirements;

4. demonstrate that candidates for certification will acquire, and then maintain, knowledge and skills in that field;

5. establish defined standards for training and a system for evaluation of educational program quality; and

6. demonstrate support from the relevant field of medical practice and broad professional support.[2]

Certification by a member board[edit]

Board Certification from an ABMS Member Board verifies a physician's knowledge and skills to practice medicine in a particular medical specialty. Board Certified physicians have completed specialty training beyond the state licensure basic competency requirements to practice medicine. Before becoming Board Certified, each physician must:[3]

1. finish four years of premedical education in a college of university;

2. earn a medical degree (MD, DO or other credential approved by an ABMS Member Board) from a qualified medical school;

3. complete three to five years of full-time experience in a residency training program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME);

4. obtain an unrestricted medical license to practice in the United States or Canada; and

5. pass a written, and in some cases, an oral examination created and administered by an ABMS Member Board.

These are the first steps in the career-long learning and assessment process required by the ABMS MOC program.

Maintenance of certification (ABMS MOC) program[edit]

Adopted in 2000, the ABMS MOC program provides physicians a process to advance their knowledge and evolve their practices through ongoing evaluation, learning and improvement activities. Through the ABMS MOC program, physicians keep their Board Certification active by keeping pace with the latest advances in their specialties and demonstrating proficiency in six specific competencies defined by ABMS and Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).[4]

1. Professionalism – carrying out professional responsibilities safely and ethically

2. Patient Care and Procedural Skills – providing compassionate, appropriate and effective patient care

3. Medical Knowledge – demonstrating medical knowledge and its application to patient care

4. Practice-based Learning and Improvement – continuously improving patient care through constant self-evaluation and lifelong learning

5. Interpersonal and Communication Skills – facilitating effective information exchange and collaboration with patients, their families and health professionals

6. Systems-based Practice – ability to call on other system resources to provide optimal health care

Specialists from each ABMS Member Board create and implement the activities for their specialty which are built upon evidence-based guidelines, national clinical and quality standards and specialty best practices. These are incorporated into four component categories to help physicians continue to progress in the core competencies.

Part I: Licensure and Professional Standing – Hold a valid, unrestricted medical license in at least one (1) state or jurisdiction in the United States, its territories or Canada.

Part II: Lifelong Learning and Self-Assessment – Educational and self-assessment programs that meet specialty-specific standards that are set by the Member Board.

Part III: Cognitive Expertise – Demonstration, through formalized examination, the fundamental, practice-related and practice environment-related knowledge to provide quality care in their specialty.

Part IV: Practice Performance Assessment – Demonstrate use of best evidence and practices compared to peers and national best practices to improve care.

Health plans are recognzing ABMS MOC program activities and are working with various ABMS Member Boards to signal its value. Studies in progress translate ABMS MOC program activities into tangible patient benefits, such as better outcomes, more reliable care, improved communication, fewer medical errors and higher rates of preventive service.

Confirming board certification and participation in ABMS MOC[edit]

The Board Certification process conducted by the ABMS Member Boards is recognized by the health care industry as the gold standard for physician accountability.[citation needed] These resources are not valid for accrediting done by credentialing organization or other commercial entities. Groups that perform mass verifications must obtain their information from a recognized source, such as ABMS, or an ABMS-designated agent. ABMS offers a number of verification services to the medical staff and credentialing professionals and other business users.

Recently, because of intense physician dissatisfaction with the ABMS, the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons has become a direct competitor to the ABMS. NBPAS has been recredentialling physicians who choose not to participate in the ABMS MOC program. NBPAS has board chairpersons donating their time, which is in direct contrast to the massive fees paid to the chairpersons of the ABMS member boards. As a consequence, NBPAS recredentialling is a fraction of the cost of the ABMS MOC, and there is no evidence that MOC will produce any better or more meaningful results[5]

ABMS Member Boards[edit]

ABMS was incorporated in 1933. This list shows the year each board was approved as an ABMS Member Board.

Founding Members





  • American Board of Neurological Surgery



  • American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery






  • American Board of Medical Genetics

See also[edit]


  1. ^ American Board of Medical Specialties Accessed August 2012
  2. ^ American Board of Medical Specialties Accessed August 2012
  3. ^ American Board of Medical Specialties Accessed August 2012
  4. ^ American Board of Medical Specialties Accessed August 2012
  5. ^

External links[edit]