What does Board Certified mean for a doctor?
April 10, 2006 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Seeking a new internist, family doctor, and wonder what Board Certified means as relevant to credentials

My doctors (interneists) keep moving out of state and I need a new one now. I had been told some years ago that a sign of a good doctor was that he or she was "board ceertified." What does that mean and does that usually suggest a superior training and/or ability? One thing I have found discouraging is that internists look mainly at what they specialize in: the heart, the colon, etc and if that is ok, they do a quick pass on other things.
posted by Postroad to Health & Fitness (6 answers total)
Every doctor you see should be "board certified," unless they're a resident; medical boards are required to practice, afaik.

Internists aren't supposed to specialize; they're supposed to be generalists--that is, doctors that know a good deal about all the body systems.

If you haven't been happy with internists, you could also try a family practice physician--they see everyone from babies to adults.
posted by gramcracker at 7:33 AM on April 10, 2006

gramcracker is incorrect. Board certification is awarded in specific disciplines to physicians who have taken a special round of examinations to demonstrate expertise in a particular specialty. Plenty of physicians don't have board certification in their discipline.

I'm no expert on this but I just wanted to clear this up.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:42 AM on April 10, 2006

rxrfrx is correct. Board Certification is a somewhat newer thing, (maybe th past 20 yrs.?). Passing one's "Boards" has nothing to do with licensure.

My internist is also a rheumatologist. I'm early 40s and have been going to this man for years. He treats everything.

An internist for a primary physician is fine. To me it's preferrable to a family practice physician, (although I have see good family practice docs, but not as common as a good internist).
posted by 6:1 at 8:09 AM on April 10, 2006

Well, you're both right, in a manner of speaking. The following information holds for the USA only:

The USMLE is the set of 3 tests that must be passed for an American physician to obtain her license to practice. These used to be called the "NBME" exams because they were administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners. Every new-licensed physician has passed these exams. However, they're not what doctors and others are referring to when they talk about "Board Certified."

"Board Certified," when referring to US physicians and surgeons, means that they have passed an additional exam or set of exams which has been accepted by the American Board of Medical Specialties, which is an umbrella association of various specialty boards. Doctors can't use that phrase to refer to themselves until they've passed these extra exams. You don't need to pass these exams to practice medicine; they are an 'extra'.

The neurology boards were not difficult, or so I thought, but apparently they only have a 40% pass rate, and not all neurologists even attempt them. So apparently they do discriminate at some level between qualified and less-qualified neurologists. The exam also cost $3000, which in a way serves as a marker of something, be it commitment to excellence, having too much money, or just obsessive-compulsiveness.

For a family doc, you can find yourself a general internist, a family practitioner, or an internist who has gone on to do extra training in some specialty. Board certification is available in internal medicine, family practice, and numerous medical specialties. In my opinion, none of these things are very important; what's important is that the doc is competent, caring, and a good fit for you and your family.

Good luck!
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:10 AM on April 10, 2006

I posted a long comment explaining somewhat how medical practice is governed in the US in MeFi recently. Perhaps it will help answer your question. Basically board certification means that you have completed a residency and passed a fairly comprehensive exam given by the board of the specialty you did your residency in. Neither is required to practice, but they are an indicator that the person is adequately trained. The links in my answer noted above lead to various specialty boards, which may be good sources of information if you want to go into it more deeply. They can also potentially hep you find an physician.
posted by TedW at 8:10 AM on April 10, 2006

Also what ikkyu2 said, as usual.
posted by TedW at 8:12 AM on April 10, 2006

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