What Do You Need to Know About ABFM Family Medicine Certification? 

family medicine symbols

Becoming a Family Medicine physician is a goal for thousands of medical students. According to the the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), Family Medicine is the second most popular medical specialty, and is chosen by approximately 8.5% of first-year medical residents for their residency training. 

Like all medical specialties, becoming board certified in family medicine involves careful preparation—including studying for and passing the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) Certification Exam. How can you become a Family Medicine doctor, and what do you need to know about certification? 

What does the Family Medicine specialty encompass? 

As a board-certified family physician, you will demonstrate your clinical competency and your commitment to providing best-practice, high-quality care that patients can trust. Family Medicine physicians deliver comprehensive, preventive and continuous care across the age span and for a variety of acute and chronic medical conditions.   

How do I become board certified in Family Medicine? 

Upon graduating from medical school and passing all three USMLE Step Exams, the next step to achieving board certification is successfully completing an ACGME-accredited residency training program. After completing residency, you are considered “Board Eligible” and must pass the Family Medicine Certification Exam within three calendar years in order to achieve board certification. 

What is the Family Medicine Certification Exam?   

The American Board of Family Medicine’s (ABFM) one-day Family Medicine Certification Exam is a computerized, nine-hour examination (including break time) consisting of 300 multiple choice questions split into four sections. Based on the depth of content and the per-question time allocation (approx. one minute), we suggest that you practice and time yourself by taking some of our practice bank questions.  

What topics are tested in the Family Medicine Certification Exam? 

The Family Medicine Certification Exam tests your knowledge and clinical problem-solving ability expected of family physicians that are up to date and aware of best practices. 

According to the ABFM Family Medicine Certification Blueprint, the exam covers the following: 

  • Cardiovascular 12% 
  • Endocrine 8% 
  • Gastrointestinal 7% 
  • Hematologic/Immune 3% 
  • Integumentary 6% 
  • Musculoskeletal 12% 
  • Nephrologic 3% 
  • Neurologic 3% 
  • Nonspecific 9% 
  • Psychogenic 7% 
  • Reproductive—Female 4% 
  • Reproductive—Male 1% 
  • Respiratory 13% 
  • Special Sensory 2% 
  • Population-based Care 5% 
  • Patient-based Systems 5% 

When can I take the exam? 

You must pass the Family Medicine Certification Examination within three calendar years after you finish your family medicine residency training. Your board eligibility expires within seven years of your residency completion.  

How can I prepare for the exam? 

Based on the depth of content and the per-question time allocation (approx. one minute and 27 seconds), we suggest that you practice and time yourself by taking some of our practice bank questions.  Taking practice questions will allow you to gauge your knowledge and see which topics you should focus on while you study. 

Once I pass, am I board certified in Family Medicine for life? 

No. The ABFM continuously assesses its diplomates via a four-part structure, including a periodic examination (either one-day or longitudinally).  

Studying for your exam? The BoardVitals Family Medicine Question Bank includes more than 2,550 board review practice questions with detailed explanations for both correct and incorrect responses. Sign up for a free trial today! 

Áine Greaney Ellrott, M.A., is a former health communications leader and award-winning writer living in the Boston area. She has led communications initiatives for a large health system and has written features, blogs, web content, physician and clinician profiles. She has also written consumer guides on topics such as mental health, addiction treatment, integrated primary care treatment, teen health, population health, technology-supported care models, palliative medicine, psychiatry, end-of-life care, advance care planning and narrative medicine. Her bylines have appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times, World of Psychology, Salon, Huffington Post, KevinMD, Edutopia, WBUR/NPR, and other publications.

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