About ABS Certification
What is the American Board of Surgery?
- The American Board of Surgery is an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1937 to assess the qualifications of individuals in the field of surgery. The ABS offers initial board certification in general surgery (also called just "surgery") and vascular surgery, and secondary certification in several related specialties (see also About the ABS).
- The ABS is one of the 24 member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Other ABMS member boards provide board certification in other surgical specialties, such as plastic surgery and orthopedic surgery (see Links).
What Does it Mean to Be Board Certified?
- Not all surgeons are ABS certified. Board certification by the ABS is a voluntary process that demonstrates a surgeon's commitment to lifelong learning and quality patient care. ABS certification recognizes individuals who have met the highest standards of education, training and knowledge specifically in the area of general surgery and its related specialties. Board certification is different from possessing a medical license, which is the minimum required by law to practice medicine and is not specialty specific.
How Does an Individual Become Board Certified?
- Board certification in general surgery or vascular surgery involves the following steps:
1. Education and Training
- Surgeons seeking board certification by the ABS must have graduated from an accredited medical school in the U.S. or Canada, or be certified by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.
- Following medical school, surgeons must complete at least five years of training in a residency program in the U.S. or Canada accredited by either the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. During their training, they must acquire extensive operative experience and a broad knowledge of disease management.
2. Application for Certification
- Upon completion of their residency training, surgeons can apply for board certification by the ABS. The director of their residency program must attest to the surgeon's surgical skills, ethics and professionalism. In addition, they must provide a log of their operative experience for review, which must be acceptable in size and scope.
- All surgeons must also hold a U.S. or Canadian medical license before they can become certified.
- If the application is approved, the surgeon is admitted to the required examinations for certification.
3. Examinations for Certification
- Surgeons must first pass a lengthy written examination known as the Qualifying Examination, which assesses their surgical knowledge.
- Surgeons must then pass an oral examination called the Certifying Examination, which tests their surgical judgment and decision making. Candidates are interviewed by experienced surgeons who evaluate their ability to diagnose and treat diverse surgical problems.
- If successful on both examinations, the surgeon is deemed board certified and becomes a "diplomate" of the ABS.
- The ABS also offers board certification in pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, surgery of the hand, hospice and palliative medicine, and complex general surgical oncology. Board certification in these areas requires completion of an accredited training program in the specialty, a full application for certification, and successful completion of an ABS written examination or both written and oral examinations. Prior certification in general surgery is also typically required for board certification in these specialties.
Maintenance of Certification
- In 1976, the ABS switched from certificates that were valid indefinitely to certificates that must be renewed every 10 years. To maintain their certification, diplomates must demonstrate a commitment to professionalism, continuing education and practice improvement, as well as pass a written examination every 10 years. This process has recently been expanded into Maintenance of Certification, an ongoing professional development program with more frequent requirements for learning and assessment.
See also these brochures:
- Your Surgeon is Certified by the American Board of Surgery (pdf)
- Your Surgeon is Certified by the Vascular Surgery Board of the American Board of Surgery (pdf)
- Surgical Specialty Definitions
- Diplomate and Examination Statistics
- International Training and Visas
Updated: April 2013