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PURPOSE. To investigate the validity of the certification process of the American Board of Anesthesiology. Specifically, does board certification in anesthesiology identify physicians judged to be clinically superior by evaluators who are not part of the certification process? METHOD. All 154 U.S. anesthesiology program directors (or faculty members they chose to represent them), unaware of the study's intent, were asked whether they would permit each of their residents completing training in 1991 to administer three increasingly complex anesthetic regimens to the directors themselves. This clinical skills rating was compared with the residents' performances in the certification process in 1992. A list of personal characteristics was also provided to the directors so they could identify reasons for less-than-optimal clinical skills ratings. A total of 1,310 residents participated in the certification process in 1992. RESULTS. A total of 146 programs responded. The directors would have accepted anesthetic care for all three increasingly complex operations from 828 (63.2%) of their own residents; for only the two less complex procedures, from 262 (20%); and for only the least complex procedure, from 127 (9.7%). In addition, 93 residents (7.1%) would not have been accepted to administer anesthesia to their directors for any of these operations. Certification success rates for these groups were 74.6%, 53.8%, 44.9%, and 49%, respectively (p < .00001). The personal characteristics believed important to the practice of anesthesiology were strongly linked to the clinical skills ratings; these included motivation, adaptability, clinical judgment, manual dexterity, several work habits, response to criticism, and handling of stressful situations. CONCLUSION. These data support validity for certification in anesthesiology and identify characteristics considered necessary for high-quality practice of the specialty.