Letter to the editor: Certification terminology misleads public

June 10, 2014

A reader writes that doctors who passes specialty board exams should be referred to as "diplomates."

In his February 25 letter, “MOC requirements will drive out experienced providers,” Benjamin Levinson, MD spoke for the majority of senior physicians when he suggested that the pressures of maintenance of certification (MOC) may force doctors to quit medicine.

But there is a side issue here that is rarely discussed, namely poor English usage.  In his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” the English writer George Orwell said that “bad usage can be spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”

In the case of the American Board of Medical Specialties, (ABMS) the words “certification” and “re-certification” represent bad usage. Both words mislead the public because neither all members of the public nor all members of the medical profession agree on exactly what they mean.

“Certified” implies a guarantee of excellence, which is dishonest. It makes more sense to call a doctor who passes the boards a “diplomate,” a term that merely means that a physician has passed a certain test.

I suspect that if the ABMS substituted “diplomate” for “board certified” far fewer doctors would feel the need to sit for the ABMS exams.

Edward Volpintesta, MD

Bethel, Connecticut