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ABMS Organizational Brochure>

Click the link above to read a brochure which explains ABMS and its work in setting the standards in physician specialty certification

Enhanced Public Trust Initiative 2008-2011: A Progress Report  

Enhanced Public Trust Initiative 2008-2011:
A Progress Report

The ABMS Enhanced Public Trust Initiative (EPTI) 2008-2011 was a major new thrust to engage members of the public more fully and strengthen ABMS’ role in increasing physician accountability. Click here to view a brochure which highlights our accomplishments with respect to the ABMS EPTI.

Higher Standards Are the Foundation for Better Care

Established in 1933, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), a not-for-profit organization comprising 24 medical specialty Member Boards, is the pre-eminent entity overseeing the certification of physician specialists in the United States. The primary function of ABMS is to assist its Member Boards in developing and implementing educational and professional standards to evaluate and certify physician specialists. By participating in these initiatives, ABMS also serves as a unique and highly influential voice in the healthcare industry, bringing focus and rigor to issues involving specialization and certification in medicine. ABMS is a designated primary equivalent source of credential information.

Our Mission

The mission of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is to serve the public and the medical profession by improving the quality of health care through setting professional standards for lifelong certification in partnership with Member Boards.

Our History

ABMS can trace its roots to the rise and growth of the medical specialty board movement in the early 1900s. This movement has been associated directly with many significant advancements in medical science and the resulting improvements made in medical care delivery. During this period of growth, however, there was no system to assure the public that a physician claiming to be a specialist was indeed qualified. Until the development of the specialty board movement, each physician was the sole assessor of his or her own qualifications to practice a given specialty. The advent of specialty societies and medical education institutions brought a more organized and rigorous approach. These bodies encouraged and assisted in the development of boards to define specialty qualifications and to issue credentials that would assure the public of the specialist's qualifications. As the original boards and societies matured, it was natural that they coalesce and organize a national system to provide recognition of qualified physician specialists.

The concept of a specialty board was first proposed in 1908, though it was not until 1916 that the first specialty board, the American Board for Ophthalmic Examinations, was formed. In 1917 the board was officially incorporated, and in 1933 its name was changed to the American Board of Ophthalmology. This board established the guidelines for training and evaluating candidates desiring certification to practice ophthalmology.

The second specialty board, the American Board of Otolaryngology, was founded and incorporated in 1924; the third and fourth boards, The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Board of Dermatology and Syphilology, were established in 1930 and 1932, respectively. These boards developed along the same path as their predecessor and shared the common objectives to:

  • Elevate the standards of their respective specialties
  • Familiarize the public with their aims and ideals
  • Protect the public against irresponsible and unqualified practitioners
  • Authorize educational resources
  • Set requirements for test candidates
  • Oversee the examination program
  • Issue certificates of qualification

At a 1933 professional conference, representatives from these four pioneering specialty boards and the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Medical Education and Hospitals and the National Board of Medical Examiners agreed that the examination and certification of specialists would best be carried out by the National Boards (specialty boards). They also concluded that the efficacy of these boards would be maximized by the formation of an advisory committee or council created by two delegated representatives from the official specialty boards currently in existence or in the process of formation.

Formal organization of the Advisory Board occurred that same year, and in 1934 the Constitution and Bylaws were adopted. The purposes of the newly formed Advisory Board were:

  • To furnish an opportunity for the discussion of problems common to the various specialty examining boards in medicine and surgery
  • To act in an advisory capacity to these boards
  • To coordinate their work as far as possible
  • Assume jurisdiction over those policies and problems common to all of the Boards which are expressly delegated to it by the component boards
  • To avoid interfering with the autonomy of any represented examining board
  • To stimulate improvement in postgraduate medical education

Though broadened since then, these purposes and goals remain much the same today.

Since 1933, official recognition of specialty boards in medicine has been achieved by the collaborative efforts of the Advisory Board for Medical Specialties, its successor, the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the AMA Council on Medical Education. In 1948 these efforts were formalized through the establishment of the Liaison Committee for Specialty Boards (LCSB). A jointly approved publication, “Essentials for Approval of Examining Boards in Medicine Specialties,” established standards. This document has undergone several revisions through the years and remains the standard for recognition of new specialty boards.

From 1933 to 1970, the Advisory Board operated as a federation of individual specialty boards. It functioned primarily as a forum for discussion without the benefit of a full-time director or a central office from which to conduct its daily operations. This changed in 1970 when the Advisory Board was reorganized as the American Board of Medical Specialties. A new category of “Conjoint Board” was also created and the Bylaws were revised to provide for the category of “Regular Member” for Primary and Conjoint Boards and the category of “Associate Member” for member organizations that were not specialty boards. A formal funding mechanism was established on the basis of a dues assessment for each Member Board and Associate Member.

The official ABMS Member Boards and Associate Members are (year approved as an ABMS Member Board in parentheses):

  • Allergy and Immunology (1971)
  • Anesthesiology (1941)
  • Colon and Rectal Surgery (1949)
  • Dermatology (ABMS Founding Member)
  • Emergency Medicine (1979)
  • Family Medicine (1969)
  • Internal Medicine (1936)
  • Medical Genetics and Genomics (1991)
  • Neurological Surgery (1940)
  • Nuclear Medicine (1971)
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABMS Founding Member)
  • Ophthalmology (ABMS Founding Member)
  • Orthopaedic Surgery (1935)
  • Otolaryngology (ABMS Founding Member)
  • Pathology (1936)
  • Pediatrics (1935)
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (1947)
  • Plastic Surgery (1941)
  • Preventive Medicine (1949)
  • Psychiatry and Neurology (1935)
  • Radiology (1935)
  • Surgery (1937)
  • Thoracic Surgery (1971)
  • Urology (1935)