American Board of Medical Specialties sets time limits for board eligibility

June 6, 2012

You can only call yourself board-eligible for a limited period of time now. Find out what the new rules are--and the penalties you'll incur if you don't follow them.

Those entering the practice of family or internal medicine who wish to become board-certified now have 7 years from the time they complete residency to do so, under new limits established by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) and its member boards.

The new rules are designed to prevent physicians from indefinitely claiming an intention to become certified by calling themselves “board-eligible,” terminology not recognized by the ABMS until September. At that time, the organization’s board of directors announced a policy, which became effective January 1, requiring doctors to become certified within 3 to 7 years after residency; it also gave each of its member boards, including the American Board of Family Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine, until spring to determine individual limits within that range for the physicians they certify.

“ABMS and its member boards believe very strongly that patients, health systems, and others who have a stake in high-quality healthcare have a right to know what it means when physicians call themselves board-eligible,” says Lloyd B. Morgan, ABMS interim chief executive. “It is a disservice to these stakeholders to allow physicians to use the designation indefinitely without undergoing the rigorous process of board certification.”

Under the new rules, family and internal medicine doctors who don’t become certified within 7 years must restart the process. Re-entry details are still being finalized for internists, but family physicians will need to re-enter training and complete at least 1 year of additional training in an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited family medicine residency before sitting for the examination. All doctors also will face sanctions if they designate themselves as board-eligible beyond the time limit. Member boards make exceptions for candidates under special circumstances, such as acute illness or military service.

Unlike medical licensure, board certification is voluntary. Doctors who undergo the process also must commit to participating in the ABMS maintenance of certification program.

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