Preserving the Legitimacy of Board Certification

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The aims of this discussion were to inform the medical community about the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery's ongoing attempts in Louisiana to achieve equivalency to American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) member boards so that its diplomates may use the term “board certified” in advertising and to ensure public safety by upholding the standards for medical board certification.


In 2011, Louisiana passed a truth in medical advertising law, which was intended to protect the public by prohibiting the use of the term “board certified” by improperly credentialed physicians. An American Board of Cosmetic Surgery diplomate petitioned the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners to approve a rule that would establish a pathway to equivalency for non-ABMS member boards, whose diplomates have not completed training approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in the specialty they are certifying. Physicians and physician organizations representing multiple specialties (facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, otolaryngology [head and neck surgery], orthopedic spine surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, dermatology, and plastic surgery) urged the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners to clarify its advertising policy, limiting the use of the term “board certified” to physicians who have completed ACGME-approved training in the specialty or subspecialty named in the certificate.


The public equates the term “board certified” with the highest level of expertise in a medical specialty. When a certifying board does not require completion of ACGME or American Osteopathic Association (AOA)–accredited training in the specialty it certifies, the result is an unacceptable degree of variability in the education and training standards applied to its diplomates. Independent, third-party oversight of certifying boards and training programs is necessary to ensure quality standards are upheld. Any system that assesses a non-ABMS member or non–AOA-certified board for equivalency approval must ensure that the training and qualifications required by the non-ABMS or AOA board are equivalent in scope, content, and duration to those required by the ABMS and AOA. This issue must not be misconstrued as a “turf battle” between physicians of 2 competing specialties. Preserving the legitimacy of board certification is incumbent upon all medical specialties and subspecialties. This argument is a truthful, principled defense of the legitimacy of board certification.

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