ABMS Board Eligibility Policy

Policy & Frequently Asked Questions
(updated 2/11/2018)

See the [PDF] ABMS Board Eligibility Overview and FAQ document.

What is the ABMS Policy for Specialty Certification?

The ABMS Board Eligibility Policy for Specialty Certification, effective as of January 1, 2012, limits the period of time that may elapse between a physician's completion of training and achievement of initial certification in a specialty. The Member Boards established transition dates for physician candidates who had completed training, but not yet achieved initial certification in a specialty as of the policy effective date. A Member Board with an already existing board eligibility policy was to ensure that its board eligible period aligned with the principles of the established ABMS policy, but each Board’s transition dates can vary. Those Member Boards that did not have an existing policy in place established transition dates for candidates who had completed their training but not yet achieved initial certification in a specialty as of the policy’s effective date. Member Boards chose a date between January 1, 2015 – January 1, 2019 for these candidates to achieve initial certification in a specialty.

Is there a board eligibility policy for subspecialty certification?

Yes. The ABMS Eligibility Policy for Subspecialty Certification, effective January 1, 2018, limits the period of time that may elapse between a physician’s training and achievement of initial certification in a subspecialty. ABMS Member Boards that do not have an existing policy in place are expected to establish and implement a transition plan. This period can be up to 7 years following the successful completion of training, plus time (if any) in practice as required by the board for admissibility to the certifying examination.

Member Boards with an already existing policy in place prior to the effective date of the ABMS policy have aligned their board eligible period with the principles of the policy.

Why were these policies established?

The ABMS board eligibility policies for specialty and subspecialty certification recognize physicians’ legitimate need to use the term “board eligible” as a way to signal their preparations for initial certification in a specialty or subspecialty. At the same time, it closes off the potential for abuse through use of the term indefinitely.

The policies tighten the connection between training and initial certification in a specialty or subspecialty. Research has shown repeatedly that physicians lose knowledge and skills as the years pass after their training. The requirements of the ABMS Program for Maintenance of Certification (ABMS MOC) address this issue through continuous professional development. The policies limit the time that may elapse before physicians become board certified.

NOTE: While some Member Boards may not recognize the term “board eligible,” their policies appropriately limit the time that may elapse before a physician becomes board certified.

Why do these policies allow for flexibility in the board eligible period for achieving initial certification, rather than establish one common length of time?

The flexibility in the board eligible period recognizes that ABMS Member Boards have different requirements for certification and different schedules for certifying examinations.

Are there exceptions to the board eligible period?

An ABMS Member Board may waive the rule for candidates in instances of military deployment, acute illness or other individual instances.

What happens when a physician does not achieve initial certification prior to the expiration of the board eligible period set by his or her certifying ABMS Member Board?

When a physician does not achieve initial certification within the board eligible period, that physician must cease from representing him / herself as being board eligible. The physician is no longer eligible for certification until completing all requirements of the ABMS Member Board that oversees certification in his or her specialty.

What are the consequences for a physician who claims to be board eligible beyond the board eligible period established by his or her certifying ABMS Member Board?

Any patient, hospital or other interested party may determine when a physician has completed training by referring to publicly available documents. Board eligibility policies of ABMS Member Boards are also publicly available. A physician’s claims to be board eligible inappropriately will be obvious.