Does Board Certification Matter?

does board certification matter

There is always an ongoing debate as to whether board certification enhances a physician’s skills or if it is little more than a money-making scheme on the part of the certifying boards. Does board certification matter? Regardless of the debate, one thing remains true; in the current healthcare environment, being board certified will serve you better than not being board certified. Here are ten reasons why you should maintain board certification in your specialty:

  1. Because medicine changes 
  2. Because when it comes to patients researching physicians, you need to be more than an expert in the type of medicine you practice –  you need to be seen as an expert
  3. Because it gives your patients confidence in your skills 
  4. Because if you are not, patients may pass you by 
  5. Because the ongoing education will improve your knowledge of clinical guidelines, medications, and imaging
  6. Because it tests “minimal requirements” of knowledge 
  7. It says you are an expert in your field who thoroughly understands the risks and outcomes of your specialty
  8. Health plans and payers may reimburse differently (higher) based on board certification
  9. It may affect your ability to be on a hospital’s active medical staff
  10. Because every search of “why should physicians be board certified” brings up results of why physicians should be certified; not why they shouldn’t be – and that is what patients read  

Now to some of the details.

From the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics to Fortune magazine commentary, when experts weigh in they say that physicians benefit greatly from being board certified. 

The AMA Journal of Ethics published a case study called, “Board Certification as Prerequisite for Hospital Staff Privileges,” written by Joseph Lowy, MD. The case involved a hospital whose board implemented a new policy saying all physicians on the active medical staff must be board certified, with a 6 year grace period for physicians to meet the new requirement. In analyzing the case, the author said in part, “Although not required for licensure, board certification may also be used by a hospital as one of its threshold criteria. Similarly, while JCAHO does not require board certification of all physicians for hospital accreditation, it does note in its accreditation standards that board certification is ‘an excellent benchmark for the delineation of clinical privileges’. 

“It is my opinion that the certification requirement is reasonable as part of the threshold criteria for initial appointment to the medical staff. To be sure, restricting staff privileges to board certified physicians will enhance the quality of medical care and reputation of the hospital. Once a physician has been appointed, however, a hospital should not be permitted to reduce or eliminate his or her privileges without due cause.” 

Literally every medical association touts the benefits of board certification. Educated patients looking for physicians will source these association websites and rely on the information therein. For example; the American Academy of Dermatology Association states; Correctly identifying the (skin) condition is crucial to determining the proper treatment. If you want the best care available, seek out a board-certified dermatologist.” 

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is even more blunt about the risk of using a non-board certified plastic surgeon. It admonishes patients to choose only a board certified plastic surgeon. The site says, “The buyer must beware. You must seek out a doctor that is board certified within the field in which they are practicing. In other words, if you are undergoing a cosmetic plastic surgery procedure, you need to find a doctor that is board certified by American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).” 

Verywell health, a blog site visited by thousands of patients each day, goes even further to say that “Wise patients understand the background and importance of board certification for medical specialties. Further, they research a potential doctor’s board certification to learn more about what competencies they can expect from that practitioner.”

The case in favor of board certification is perhaps best reasoned and articulated by Richard E. Hawkins, president and CEO of the American Board of Medical Specialties, in a commentary published in Fortune magazine. He makes three salient points: 

  1. Board certification identifies skills, knowledge, and competencies: “Studies indicate that physicians’ skills and knowledge retention decline over time. Like everyone else, physicians do not always accurately self-assess the areas of practice in which they may need improvement. While necessary, continuing medical education is self-directed; there is no way of knowing whether physicians are remaining current with the knowledge and skills needed to care for patients. A system of independent, objective assessment is essential to assist physicians in identifying gaps in their skills and knowledge, guide subsequent education and improvements in practice, and verify that these gaps have been addressed.
  2. Patient care improves: “Following are a sample of studies published in peer-reviewed journals showing that as a result of participating in MOC activities, physicians have:
  1. The benefits of board certification are broad: “Participation by specialty physicians in an ABMS Member Board MOC program has a positive impact on patient care, improves outcomes, and serves as an important tool for consumers, hospitals, and physicians. Their participation helps promote healthier communities, improve patient outcomes, and decrease health care costs.”

If you are questioning whether to maintain your board certification, err on the side of “yes.” A certification tells your patients, your medical community, and your hospital that your skills have been examined objectively, and your expertise certified by a specialty board. It is one more credential that tells current and prospective patients that you are the best physician to provide their care. 

Are you preparing for your initial board certification exam or getting ready to maintain your MOC and CME requirements? Visit for the top online board review questions banks and CME activities.

Deborah Chiaravalloti is an award-winning writer and former hospital executive. Her insider experience helps healthcare clients launch medical procedures, products including artificial intelligence software and knowledge sharing platforms. Deborah writes websites, blogs, opinion pieces, and marketing strategy for elder care, health care consumerism, revenue cycle management (RCM), and the business of healthcare. Her printed pieces have been published and her radio shows syndicated nationally.

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