Board Certification Requirements

The information below provides an overview of the requirements for initial board certification and continuing certification.

See the ABMS Board Certification Report for additional information or for more specific questions, contact the particular ABMS Member Board.

1. Medical Education and Licensure

After completing medical school, medical students must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination to receive a license to practice medicine in a particular state.

2. Residency/Fellowship (3 to 7 years)

Following graduate medical training, physicians and medical specialists can identify themselves as board eligible. They have three to seven years, depending on the ABMS Member Board, to take a specialty certification exam.

All application and exam requirements defined by the ABMS Member Board must be met before a physician or medical specialist can take the exam in a specialty or subspecialty.

3. ABMS Board Certification (Career Entry)

Upon successfully completing a rigorous exam, physicians and medical specialists receive specialty certification and are considered diplomates of that ABMS Member Board.

4. ABMS Continuing Certification (Professional Practice: 30+ years)

Through a process of ongoing assessment and learning, physicians and medical specialists demonstrate their commitment to high-quality patient care. They can become more specialized to better reflect their practice, patient population, and interests through focused practice designation.

Initial Certification

Before physicians and medical specialists can practice medicine, they must meet the requirements for medical licensure. Licensure is a mandatory credential granted by a state providing legal permission to practice medicine. They must have a license in the state(s) they intend to practice.

Before physicians and medical specialists can become board certified, however, they must first:

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

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 and medical specialists (also known as diplomates) maintain up-to-date knowledge, enhance clinical outcomes and promote patient safety.

The career-long process of ABMS board certification encourages diplomates 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 diplomates renew their knowledge, identify areas for learning, and connect with resources to retool their skills.

The many programs and initiatives offered by ABMS and our collaboration with a variety of health care organizations support diplomates by connecting quality/safety goals and staff evolvement with the aims of certification.

ABMS offers ways for the public and professional organizations to find out if diplomates are board certified and are keeping their knowledge and skills current through continuing certification activities.