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Certification Options for Health Care Providers

Oct 14, 2019

Physicians, medical specialists and nurses have various stipulations they must meet to be board certified by different bodies. Requirements can include degrees, examinations and specialized credentials.

Essential Information

All doctor candidates for board certification must have a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree from a medical school and a residency under their belts before they can apply for certification. They must also have full licensure to practice as medical professionals, which requires passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). They must also meet educational requirements for their specialty. A bachelor's degree is needed for physician/medical specialist certification.

Nurses must be licensed and hold relevant degrees to qualify for certification. All board certification available from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is offered in particular specialties, as opposed to being offered in general nursing. Each particular specialty has its own educational requirements for applicants, although most require nurses to have met the educational standards of their field and have gained licensure. For example, a family nurse practitioner should hold at least a master's degree in nursing and valid licensure before applying for board certification. Continuing education is required to retain all credentials in both professions.

Ethical standards must be upheld in all of the aforementioned areas.


Board Certification for Physicians and Medical Specialists

Before physicians gain board certification, they must first complete a bachelor's degree, four years of medical school, and three to five years of residency training in their areas of specialty. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) consists of individual member boards for each medical specialty qualifying candidates for certification based upon written evaluations and examinations.

In total, more than 145 specialties, including subspecialties, are offered by ABMS' member boards. A sampling of these specialties includes:

  • Allergy and immunology
  • Internal and family medicine
  • Anesthesiology
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Plastic surgery

Board Certification for Nurses

In the nursing profession, voluntary board certification is monitored by the ANCC, a division of the American Nurses Association. In order to gain certification, licensed nurses must pass an examination and prove they meet professional standards. Though board certification for nurses is voluntary, it offers validation of a nurse's particular professional development and skills.

In addition to board certification for nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, several other types of specialized nurse certifications are available. These include:

  • Ambulatory care nursing
  • College health nursing
  • Informatics nursing
  • Cardiac vascular nursing
  • School and pediatric nursing
  • Maternal-child nursing

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Physicians and surgeons in general held about 389,180 jobs in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). Salaries depend largely on the subspecialty, the location of a doctor's practice, and years of experience. The average salary earned among pediatricians in May 2018 was $183,240. Family and general practitioners made $211,780, while internists garnered $196,490. 2,951,960 registered nurses were employed in 2018. In May 2018, registered nurses in general earned a median salary of $71,730.

Continuing Education Information

Each of the member boards involved with ABMS requires that physicians maintain their certification status. Though the boards may vary in the ways that they evaluate continuing education, they all follow the same basic structure through the ABMS' Maintenance of Certification program. To remain certified, physicians must prove that they can meet six established criteria, including patient care techniques, up-to-date medical knowledge, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, systems-based practice and practice-style learning.

Board-certified nurses need to renew their certification every five years to keep it active. Six months prior to the expiration of their current certification, nurses should sign and submit a renewal application. Some specialties will have specific renewal requirements nurses must also meet before they apply.

Physicians and medical specialists must have a bachelor's and M.D., pass standardized tests and have acquired licensure before applying for necessary board certification. Board certification--necessitating many of the same elements-- is voluntary for nurses, but it can be a testament to specialized skills and knowledge.

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