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Board certified most commonly refers to physicians who have passed a variety of exams, or boards, in a field of medicine. All doctors must pass boards before obtaining their licenses to practice medicine. However, physicians often want to specialize in a particular field and pursue further study before taking boards in specialized medicine.
Being board certified has become an issue in recent years because some doctors who have not completed additional hours of study and practice are performing surgeries and techniques that might be better left to specialists. The most glaring example of this practice is in the field of cosmetic and plastic surgery. With more clients wanting Botox injections, collagen injections and other cosmetic surgical procedures, some physicians who are not board certified in plastic and cosmetic surgery see a way to turn an easy profit.
In such cases, clients seeking these procedures from physicians who are or were not board certified often ended up with less than perfect results. Collagen could be injected incorrectly into the lips, causing not the sought after “bee stung” look, but more the look of someone whose lips were clearly too large for their face. Faulty Botox injections could result in a client with near paralysis of the face. Other surgical procedures were botched and resulted in facial deformities or ongoing pain.
In an effort to reduce these serious problems caused by unscrupulous physicians, board certified plastic surgeons and other specialists sought to be able to advertise their status of board certification. Through the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century, the US government determined that physicians could advertise that they were board certified. Though being board certified represents a higher level of competency in a certain field, it does not imply that all physicians who are board certified are equally competent. While most consumer organizations and medical associations recommend people seek out specialists who are board certified, they also recommend requesting statistics and references from such physicians. In the case of cosmetic surgeons, patients are strongly recommended to look at results pictures, as well as ask for references, before choosing a particular physician.
Some general practitioners seek board certification in other fields, most often pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology. When choosing a general practitioner, asking about board certification in these fields may be helpful. For example, a woman who plans to have children may want to have a doctor who can both treat the usual illnesses of adults, and also deliver babies competently. Many general practitioners do practice obstetrics, but being board certified means they have spent more time studying this field and can address any complications that might arise during a delivery.
While being board certified implies a certain level of competency in a medical field, some physicians are equally competent to board certified specialists. Physicians, like the rest of the general population, may suffer from test anxiety, which makes passing the boards difficult or impossible. However, their skills in a specialty may be excellent. Again, potential clients should check references if they choose to use a physician who is not board certified.