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What's In a Board (Certification)?

We all want the best when it comes to surgery.

"My doctor is board certified."

"Mine is double board certified!"

"Mine is triple board certified."

Wow! Sounds like good, better, and best... but is that what it really means, though?

Whether considering mandatory or elective surgery, we all know that “board certification” is a key positive indicator in the doctor selection process. Board certification originally arose as a patient protection criteria to ensure that doctors were adequately trained in whatever field they were practicing. But what most prospective patients don’t realize is that this stamp of “board certification” has recently been used as a competitive marketing technique within the medical industry.

In general, many of these "boards" are private corporations, whose members and governors are the very doctors being certified by that board. Almost sounds like a fraternity! So where can you turn to in order to know what to really trust?

Enter the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) established in 1933. It’s founding members were: the American Board of Dermatology, the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB-GYN), the American Board of Ophthalmology and the American Board of Otolaryngology (ENT). Over the years, more and more specialties were admitted to the ABMS up through today, where there are currently 24 member boards comprising many specialties and subspecialties in medicine.


From the ABMS website: “When a physician or surgeon is Board Certified by an ABMS specialty board, it means he or she has chosen to achieve expertise in a medical specialty or subspecialty by meeting the profession-driven standards and requirements of one (or more) of the 24 ABMS certifying boards."


The plain fact is that when it comes to plastic surgery there is only ONE plastic surgery board that is recognized by the ABMS, and that is “the American Board of Plastic Surgery”. But what about these other "boards" my doctor might list? Well, let’s break it down:

”Cosmetic surgery” is indeed a branch of “plastic surgery”, but these 2 terms do not mean the same thing when it comes to credentials: there is no ABMS-member board that exists specifically for “cosmetic surgery”. The highest standard for your cosmetic or aesthetic surgeon is the American Board of Plastic Surgery (See list below of ABMS-member boards)

Now, does it really matter if your physician's board is on the ABMS member list? That’s for you to decide. Every state has a licensing agency that issues and renews your doctor’s license to practice medicine. In Texas, it’s the Texas Medical Board (TMB), and as far as these experts are concerned, the ABMS membership is important enough that they will only report a doctor’s ABMS boards. Suddenly your doctor who proudly advertises as being double or triple board certified can really only list one board with the state!? Hmmm. Definitely something to think about.

So, when you are researching your physician, don’t just take his or her word for their credentials; it’s KEY to look them up here: to see if the “boards” that they are referring to are official MEMBER BOARDS recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

Here is a complete list of ALL of the ABMS boards:


Now, this week on the “Real Housewives of Dallas”, one of my castmates went to a nice doctor for cosmetic surgery; she proudly proclaimed him to be "triple board certified", one of which is the ABMS member board in OB-GYN. As I mentioned on the show, that's great.... "He's an OB-GYN". Unfortunately, this castmate got upset with me that I pointed out that this physician is not, in fact, a board certified plastic surgeon. Well! I guess sometimes, you just can't win. I can't explain how difficult it is to keep my mouth shut when a friend or acquaintance (or Anyone for that matter!) is headed down a medical path that has not been well-researched. When your life and health is at stake, when do you say when? Is silence the best answer? Or should you take the dragging & get called a C all in hopes that things will work out in the end?

I don't have the answers to these questions (and I was there!).

Again, here’s the link to look up any doctor in Texas — from training, credentials, ABMS board certification, complaints and disciplinary actions, find them all for your prospective physician at:

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