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Board certification is a professional standard that assesses whether an individual has met the minimum number of requirements necessary to be recognized as an expert in that field. In most cases, the term applies to medical and dental designations, but it may also apply to other professional divisions, such as real estate and law. While board certification does not guarantee a customer or patient a worry-free experience, it does provide some assurances.
In most cases, board certification is used in the medical arena to identify physicians who specialize in a certain field. Cardiologists, podiatrists, orthodontists and many others may all have the chance to be board certified. Certification may be needed in the medical field to practice some of these specialties, but this certification is often different from a license to practice medicine.
Receiving a board certification is a lengthy process that seeks to identify those in the field who have expert knowledge. In order to become certified, at least eight years of college are necessary, followed by a three-year residency and then training for two or more years in a specialty area. After the education portion has been completed, the applicant must still pass a written exam, and typically must also go through an oral exam process. Only upon successful completion of those steps will a board award certification.
In the United States, most physicians who claim board certification have gone through the process with the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), which encompasses 24 different medical specialty boards. Other boards may not have the reputation or the requirements that ABMS does, and therefore are not as highly considered. Even so, a physician claiming board certification does not need to be recognized by the ABMS to make the claim.
In other cases, board certification may be a term applied to a state license for real estate or even law. If that is the case, a lawyer, appraiser, or real estate agent may use the terms interchangeably, and may not be recognized beyond the state minimum. This does not mean that the individual in question is trying to be deceptive or cannot do the job adequately. It simply is a different way to term being licensed by the state.
If you have a question about what a board certification means, ask the doctor or professional who is making the claim. The ABMS also has a directory of board-certified physicians, so you can also check directly with that organization on the phone or Internet. Typically, physicians must re-take the required tests or meet other requirements every seven to 10 years to keep their certifications valid.