The pass/fail results of 44 North American medical specialty certification examinations are compared and analyzed. A calculated annual failure rate was used to equate one- and two-part examinations. Failure rates on American boards generally varied between 8 and 61 percent. Foreign medical graduates (FMGs) had failure rates two to three times higher than those of North American graduates in almost all specialties. Failure rates for comparable North American and FMG candidates tended to be higher on Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada specialty certification examinations than on equivalent American specialty board examinations. The place of specialty certification in the continuum of American graduate medical education is delineated. Questions are raised concerning the standards required for specialty certification.