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While there are no certificate or diploma programs for doctors, they can gain board certification in certain specialties after completing medical school and hands-on clinical training during an internship and residency. Board certification for medical specialties signifies training and competency in treating a particular part of the body, type of injury or type of patient.
Certifications for doctors are in addition to the license to practice required for all physicians. The specialty certification is granted through a professional board in the field, such as those overseen by the American Board of Medical Specialties (www.abms.org). Board certification is not legally required for the practice of medicine, but hospitals may prefer to hire board-certified physicians. A board-certified doctor is called a diplomate of the board. Diplomates who want to specialize more deeply than board certification can complete a fellowship program in a subspecialty. This subspecialty certification can launch the doctor's career in teaching and research.
During residency, candidates for specialty board certification provide hands-on patient care, often in a teaching hospital at a university. Some residencies also include lectures, conferences or seminars. Candidates must pass a written and oral examination given by a group of their peers in a particular specialty, such as anesthesiology, family medicine, emergency medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, pathology, nuclear medicine or urology. After passing the certification exam, board-certified doctors keep their certification current through continuing medical education and by learning about new and developing medical practices.
There are more than 100 specialties and sub-specialties in the medical profession. There are many certification boards, including the 24 overseen by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Each board sets its own process for applicants. Some of these are detailed below.
Doctors aspiring to diagnose and treat patients' allergies, from pollen to peanuts, can gain certification from the American Board of Allergy and Immunology (ABAI). Candidates for the program must complete two years of continuous post-medical school training through an accredited program. They learn the basics of the science and research behind allergies and the immune system. Before the ABAI's certification exam, candidates complete clinical competency evaluations and procedural skills assessment forms.
The American Board of Dermatology offers board certification for aspiring skin doctors who hold medical degrees. Individuals must complete residency training for a period of four years, three of which must be within an accredited dermatology residency training program. Upon completing the residency, the dermatologist applies for certification, undergoing an eligibility evaluation by the board. Upon approval, candidates have two years in which to take and pass the examination given by the American Board of Dermatology. If they don't take the exam within two years, they must apply again.
Some medical doctors choose to specialize in the field of family medicine and dedicate their practices to serving families of all ages. They may gain certification from the American Board of Family Medicine. The board requires three years of training in a family medicine residency program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. After residency, doctors have three years to pass the certification examination. Family doctors who delay must earn continuing education credits before taking the exam. Once certified, family physicians have a 7-year or 10-year certification renewal cycle.