ABMS gives doctors 4-year window to pass boards; defines board eligible

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Physicians now have a 4-year window to pass board certification, the American Board of Medical Specialties announced. Find out what drove the policy change, and who it could hurt most.

Physicians must pass their board certification no sooner than 3 years after completion of residency training, but no longer than 7 years, according to a new policy announced by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

What’s more, each of the 24 ABMS member groups, including the American Board of Family Medicine and American Board of Internal Medicine, must choose their own time limit by April 16, 2012. They also must decide when physicians currently in the process must achieve certification.

The policy, the first of its kind from the ABMS, was effective at the beginning of this year.

Physicians who do not achieve certification within the specified time period will need to restart the process according to the requirements of their specialty’s board. Member boards will determine the sanctions for doctors who claim board eligibility after the permitted time between training and certification has elapsed.

Before the new policy went into effect, physicians who had applied but not yet completed the certification process often referred to themselves as “board eligible,” a period that could stretch indefinitely. ABMS and its members did not officially recognize the term. Clarifying the meaning of “board eligible” strengthens the certification, ABMS representatives say.

“We recognize that physicians sometimes need to signal their intention of becoming board certified when they apply for jobs and attending privileges in hospitals and other facilities,” said Kevin B. Weiss, MD, ABMS president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “This policy legitimizes the term ‘board eligible’ during a specific time period but shuts off the potential for abuse of the term.”

The updated policy does not affect the controversial maintenance of certification program that requires physicians who have passed their board specialty to periodically recertify.