Frequently Asked Questions

Select a topic from the list below for related information. You also may email info@abms.org with specific questions.

Jump to:

About ABMS | Other Boards and Certification | About ABMS Member Boards | About Board Certification | About Diplomates | About Continuing Certification | Advice and Referrals | Complaints and Disciplinary Actions | For Researchers and Media | For Physicians and Medical Specialists

About ABMS

Description of ABMS

The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), a nationally recognized not-for-profit organization, serves the public and the medical profession by improving the quality of health care through setting professional standards for medical specialty practice and certification in partnership with its 24 certifying Member Boards.

Since its founding in 1933, ABMS has evolved these standards for board certification to support advancements in medicine, science, and technology, and changes in health care delivery processes. The standards and program guidelines set system-wide expectations and create consistency across the Member Boards. Working with other professional organizations and agencies, the Member Boards elevate the standards for patient care and care improvements across specialties. The focus on continuous professional development and participation in national initiatives translates into innovations in health care that improve the health of communities across the nation, and enhancements of the quality of care each patient receives.

Additionally, ABMS maintains a repository of certification information used by the public, health care organizations, educators, and researchers to verify a physician’s board certification status.

ABMS Initiatives

ABMS, in partnership with its Member Boards, advances quality care through a variety of programs and initiatives. We are always evolving and advancing the board certification program to keep physicians and medical specialists (also known as diplomates) practicing at the forefront of medicine. We invite others to work with us in connecting diplomates with discipline-specific learning modules, patient safety programs, quality improvement activities, and other educational and practice-based initiatives to support their professional development.

The programs include:

  • ABMS Portfolio Program™: recognizes board certified physicians’, medical specialists’, and physician assistants’ quality and safety improvement work for continuing certification.
  • ABMS Continuing Certification Directory™: helps connect board certified physicians and medical specialists with practice-relevant, accredited continuing medical certification activities for continuing certification.
  • ABMS Continuing Certification Reference Center: an online, searchable resource that highlights literature relevant to ABMS Member Board certification and continuous certification.
  • ABMS Visiting Scholars Program™: a one-year, part-time program that positions early-career physicians, and others with relevant advanced degrees, as future health leaders.
  • CertLink®: an innovative technology platform for the creation of online assessment programs that drives professional development and learning.
  • ABMS Research and Education Foundation (REF): a not-for-profit organization that supports the ABMS mission of improving health care quality and the continuous professional development of board certified diplomates through a variety of research and education initiatives.
  • ABMS Assessment Consulting: a service that helps health care organizations explore and evolve their professional certification programming, helping with all the activities related to building and maintaining a successful assessment program.
Back to the Top

About ABMS Board Certified Diplomates

What is a Diplomate?

A diplomate is a physician or medical specialist who is board certified by one or more of the 24 ABMS Member Boards for demonstrated knowledge in a particular medical specialty or subspecialty. Once board certified, the individual may be referred to as a diplomate of the board.

Back to the Top

About ABMS Member Boards

Member Boards of ABMS

The 24 ABMS Member Boards include: • American Board of Allergy and Immunology, • American Board of Anesthesiology, • American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery, • American Board of Dermatology, • American Board of Emergency Medicine, • American Board of Family Medicine, • American Board of Internal Medicine, • American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics, • American Board of Neurological Surgery, • American Board of Nuclear Medicine, • American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, • American Board of Ophthalmology, • American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, • American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, • American Board of Pathology, • American Board of Pediatrics, • American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, • American Board of Plastic Surgery, • American Board of Preventive Medicine, • American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, • American Board of Radiology, • American Board of Surgery, • American Board of Thoracic Surgery and • American Board of Urology.

Back to the Top

About Board Certification

Importance of board certification and maintaining certification

Certification by an ABMS Member Board helps demonstrate to the public that a physician and medical specialist meets nationally recognized standards for education, knowledge, experience, and skills and maintains their certification through continuous learning and practice improvement in order to provide high quality care in a specific medical specialty or subspecialty. Once board certified, the individual may be referred to as a diplomate of the board.

Back to the Top

About Continuing Certification

Continuing certification

Physicians and medical specialists are intrinsically motivated to enhance the efficiency and efficacy of their practice. The higher standards of board certification reflect the spirit of quality improvement—inspiring creative thinking, modern ingenuity, healthy curiosity and a sincere desire to help every patient. They help physicians maintain up-to-date knowledge, enhance clinical outcomes and promote patient safety.

The career-long process of ABMS board certification encourages physicians and medical specialists to uphold the dignity and honor of their profession by integrating knowledge, skill and ethical choices in ways that shape their professional lives and help them provide optimal patient care.

The ongoing assessment process fosters a community of learners, helping physicians and medical specialists renew their knowledge, identify areas for learning, and connect with resources to retool their skills.

ABMS, in partnership with its Member Boards, advances quality care through a variety of programs and initiatives. We are always evolving and advancing the board certification program to keep physicians and medical specialists practicing at the forefront of medicine. We invite others to work with us in connecting physician specialists with discipline-specific learning modules, patient safety programs, quality improvement activities, and other educational and practice-based initiatives to support their professional development.

Back to the Top

Advice and Referrals

Physician or medical specialist recommendation or referral

Unfortunately, this is not a service provided by ABMS. Some possible resources are your insurance company or the referral service at your local medical center.

Back to the Top

Complaints and Disciplinary Actions

Filing a complaint against a physician or medical specialist

To file a complaint against a physician or medical specialist, contact your state medical board. The Directory of State Medical and Osteopathic Boards can be accessed from the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) website.

Back to the Top

For Physicians and Medical Specialists

Requirements for Board Certification

Each ABMS Member Board has different requirements and it is best to contact the particular board directly. Generally speaking, candidates for initial Board Certification must:

  • Finish four years of premedical education in a college or university;
  • Earn a medical degree (MD, DO or other credential approved by an ABMS Member Board) from a qualified medical school;
  • Complete three to seven years of full-time experience in a residency training program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education;
  • Provide letters of attestation from the program director and/or faculty; and
  • Obtain an unrestricted medical license to practice medicine in the United States or Canada.

Candidates for initial certification must then pass an exam created and administered by their specialty’s board. A similar eligibility process is followed for certified specialists seeking subspecialty certification. These individuals must be certified by their specialty board, then complete additional training during or after residency and successfully complete assessments of knowledge and clinical judgment in their subspecialty discipline before being granted certification in a subspecialty.

Back to the Top

For Researchers and Media

Obtaining a quote from an ABMS spokesperson

Please contact the ABMS Associate Vice President of Communications at (312) 436-2624.

Back to the Top

Other Boards and Certifications

Boards outside of ABMS

There are a number of non-ABMS and self-designated medical boards in the United States. Some have applied for ABMS membership and some have not. Applicant boards are reviewed and accepted jointly by ABMS and the American Medical Association Council on Medical Education after initial review by Liaison Committee for Specialty Boards. ABMS monitors and takes action against any board claiming to be an ABMS Member Board and any individual wrongfully claiming to be certified by an ABMS board.

Please note that neither ABMS, nor any of its boards, is affiliated with BoardCertified LLC. Subscription to or payment of any fees to Boardcertified.com or BoardCertified LLC will not affect any diplomate’s certification status with their specialty board or listing in the ABMS database.

Unless the board is recognized by ABMS, we do not have information about its particular requirements for certification and cannot provide certification verification.

Back to the Top