From Outsider to Insider: My time on the ABMS BOD as a Public Member

On April 17, 2024

by Tara Montgomery, Founder & Principal of Civic Health Partners

When I joined the American Board of Medical Specialties Board of Directors (ABMS BOD) as a public member in 2019, my role shifted from outsider to insider. To be honest, at the time ABMS as an institution was still something of a mystery to me. As a patient and consumer advocate, I was familiar with the individual specialty boards — but not of the organization that united them behind the scenes in a shared mission to advance the quality of patient care through high standards and medical professionalism. Five years on, I’m convinced that the ABMS brand — specifically, the mark ABMS Board Certified is unique and valuable as a trustworthy starting point for identifying the best physicians. 

As my fellow public members know, it takes a long time to make sense of Boards World (as I like to call it). And just as I was starting to remember everyone’s names at our February 2020 meeting, Boards World became a fully virtual one as the COVID-19 pandemic descended. The pandemic has amplified the challenges faced by patients and physicians alike. But it has also helped us to understand that ABMS and its Member Boards need to be agile and responsive in the face of a turbulent, uncertain, novel, and complex world. We need to listen well to all stakeholders, to earn their trust, to show humility, and to be willing to learn and adapt.  

Looking back over the past five years, as I wrap up my tour of duty on the ABMS BOD, I have gained a deep appreciation for the rigor of the ABMS certification process. The work of ABMS, however technical and esoteric it may seem, matters to patients and the public. I have built a deeper respect for the physicians who choose to pursue Board Certification and Continuing Certification. I know what’s inside the certificate and how much of a commitment to higher standards of care and professionalism it really represents. I’ve been part of plenty of difficult conversations that challenge us all — within ABMS, the Member Boards, physicians, and the BOD itself — to live up to our mission and to do better. Those conversations take courage and trust. But the privilege of professional self-regulation demands those things. The work of a federated organization like ABMS is filled with healthy tensions that reflect how seriously its members take their responsibilities to each other and to the public that they serve.

During the past five years, I’ve seen the excellence of my public member colleagues and witnessed the power of our voices in action. Together, in parallel with our peers on individual Member Boards, we have kept the spotlight on issues that matter to patients, families, and the public. We’ve championed health equity as a pillar of the ABMS mission and standards. We’ve pressed for the transparent display of certification information to help the public discover whether their physician is certified and why it matters. We’ve encouraged the ABMS community to address misinformation and supported them in resisting legislative and political interference in the practice of medicine. We’ve brought our expertise from our respective professional areas and lived experiences. We’ve raised new topics of conversation. We’ve helped with reflections on board governance and ethics. We have walked the line between insider and outsider in ways that make me feel proud — and made the case for ABMS Board Certification in the external communities where we spend most of our time. We have brought real-world, big-picture insights and fresh air into many a windowless boardroom!

Finally, we’ve begun the work of outreach to the wider network of public members across the ABMS Community and indeed, across the House of Medicine. We’ve started conversations about how to lead together into the future with our collective experience and common interests. With the right relationships, resources, and infrastructure, the value of public members to ABMS and all its Member Boards can only grow stronger. As the legendary consumer advocate and self-described itinerant public member Art Levin wrote in 2010, “How we design and resource the recruitment, selection, and support of public members … will determine the value of public membership.” Who we are as public members is almost as important as what we do. At a time when patient and public engagement is more critical than ever to build trust and improve care, a diverse, energetic public member community is an imperative.

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