Steps Toward Initial Certification and MOC

Board certification and the ABMS Program for Maintenance of Certification (ABMS MOC®) are highly-visible indicators that physicians know today’s standards of practice. Board certification is the beginning of a physician’s personal commitment to providing quality patient care. The ABMS Program for MOC activities emphasize ongoing professional development and assessment that is aligned with other professional expectations and requirements within health care.

The information below provides an overview of the requirements for initial board certification and MOC. To learn more about the requirements for a specific specialty, please contact the particular ABMS Member Board.

Initial Certification

Physicians can demonstrate their expertise in a medical specialty by earning board certification through one of the 24 ABMS Member Boards. Before physicians can become Board Certified, however, they must first:

  • 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 (ACGME);
  • Provide letters of attestation from their program director and/or faculty;
  • Obtain an unrestricted medical license to practice medicine in the United States or Canada; and
  • Pass a written and, in some cases, an oral examination created and administered by an ABMS Member Board.

Maintenance of Certification

Once board certified, physicians maintain their medical specialty expertise by participating in a robust continuous professional development program called the ABMS Program for MOC. The MOC program provides physicians a structured approach for enhancing patient care and improving patient outcomes through focused assessment and improvement activities.

The ABMS Program for MOC involves ongoing measurement of six core competencies defined by ABMS and ACGME:

  1. Practice-based Learning and Improvement
  2. Patient Care and Procedural Skills
  3. Systems-based Practice
  4. Medical Knowledge
  5. Interpersonal and Communication Skills
  6. Professionalism

These competencies, which are the same ones used in the ACGME’s Next Accreditation System, are measured in the ABMS Program for MOC within a four-part framework:

  1. Part I: Professionalism and Professional Standing
  2. Part II: Lifelong Learning and Self-Assessment
  3. Part III: Assessment of Knowledge, Judgment, and Skills
  4. Part IV: Improvement in Medical Practice

All Programs for MOC implemented by the Member Boards measure the same six competencies within the same four-part framework. While these elements are consistent across all Member Boards, what may vary, according to the specialty, are the specific activities the Member Boards use to measure these competencies. Despite some variation in the activities, they are all built upon evidence-based guidelines, national clinical and quality standards, and specialty best practices.

Professional Standards

ABMS and the Member Boards evolve the educational and professional standards for certification and medical specialty practice to support advancements in medicine, science, and technology as they relate to the environments in which board certified physicians practice. The Standards for Initial Certification [PDF] consist of four General Standards and standards that address Professionalism; Education and Training; and Assessment of Knowledge, Judgment, and Skills. The Standards for the ABMS Program for Maintenance of Certification [PDF], which were updated in 2014 and became effective in 2015, provide a framework for Member Boards to use in developing their own Programs for MOC. The updated set of standards place a greater emphasis on:

  • Professionalism—how physicians carry out their responsibilities safely and ethically
  • Patient Safety—how physicians use patient safety knowledge to reduce harm and complications
  • Performance Improvement—how physicians use the best evidence and practices compared with peers and national benchmarks to treat patients
  • Incorporating Judgment into Examinations—assessing not just what the physicians know but what they do with that knowledge