ABIM: Time to heal thyself


In this Last Word, George G. Ellis Jr., MD, FACP expresses his dissatisfaction with the current behavior of ABIM and its certification problems, as well as offering advice to ABIM.

Since 1936, the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) has been a respectable and credible organization; one that I believed in and supported. I am proud to be board certified in Internal Medicine. Certification was a milestone in my career as I felt I had reached a level of excellence that set me apart from other physicians. It means something to my patients, as well as my colleagues, and it gives them some assurance that I am board certified by an independent organization.

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Dr. EllisABIM certification is supposed to be the highest standard in internal medicine and its subspecialties. It means that internists have demonstrated-to their peers and to the public-that they have the clinical judgment, skills, and attitudes essential for the delivery of excellent patient care.

My credentials are important to me and although I don’t plan to retire any time soon, I refuse to sit for another ABIM recertification exam. Since January 2014, when the ABIM changed the maintenance of certification (MOC) requirements, it has wreaked havoc on a system that worked well for decades; and if I were to believe the articles that have appeared in Newsweek, the organization made the changes for its own financial gain, not for the advancement of medicine or patient care.

ABIM betrayed the trust of its constituents, ruined its stellar reputation, and turned its back on the values of the physicians that it serves. Over the last few months, ABIM has attacked Newsweek, sent out a letter of apology to physicians, backpedaled on its MOC requirements, and more-or-less tried to justify its actions.

Instead of doing the right thing by physicians, the board has intensified the sense of anger and frustration among its constituents by focusing time and attention on its own public relations debacle. It has failed to work on solving the deep-rooted issues created among physicians regarding certification. As a result, there are now calls to abolish ABIM and MOC.

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I think that we do need a certifying body to lend credibility to the physician who is completing his or her training, therefore abolishing ABIM and board certification would be a travesty for our profession. However, ABIM needs to get out of crisis management mode and fix its problems now, before it is too late!

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Throw out the requirement for recertification every 10 years. Go back to the original premise that once you are board-certified, you maintain that status forever. Work with the associations to help them provide high-quality continuing medical education at affordable costs. If ABIM’s changes to MOC were designed to cover its bloated cost structure, then fix it now. Right-size the organization and hire managers who are fiscally responsible, not lavish spenders.

ABIM, go back to your medical values and roots; value patient care above all else. Reconfirm your oath to the profession. Honesty, integrity, and loyalty to the patient are the heart of what we do as physicians. Let this be your guiding principle for your future actions: first do no harm.

It’s not too late to regain the trust of physicians if you act now. But if you continue to change direction in dribs and drabs, you will fail us all.


George G. Ellis, Jr., MD, FACP, practices internal medicine in Youngstown, Ohio, and is chief medical adviser of Medical Economics. Have you decided to abandon your own board certification through ABIM? Tell us at medec@advanstar.com.

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