About ABS Certification

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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 primary board certification in general surgery (also called just "surgery") and vascular surgery, and secondary certification in several related specialties. Approximately 30,000 surgeons are currently board certified by 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).

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What Does it Mean to Be Board Certified?
  • Not all surgeons are board certified. Board certification by the ABS is a voluntary process that demonstrates a surgeon's commitment to lifelong learning and quality patient care. Surgeons certified by the ABS have completed at least five years of residency training following medical school, met all ABS training requirements, and successfully completed the ABS examination process.
  • Board certification by the ABS recognizes individuals who have met ABS standards 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.

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How Does an Individual Become Board Certified?
  • Board certification in general surgery or vascular surgery involves the following steps:
1. Education and Training
  • Medical School: 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.
  • Residency Training: Following medical school, surgeons must complete at least five years of training in a residency program approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education 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
  • Application: Upon completion of their residency training, surgeons can apply for board certification by the ABS. When applying, they must fully document their training and operative experience, and the director of their residency program must attest to their surgical skills, ethics and professionalism.
    If the application is approved, the surgeon is admitted to the required examinations for certification.
  • Medical License: In addition, all surgeons must hold a U.S. or Canadian medical license before they can become certified.
3. Examinations for Certification
  • Written Exam: Surgeons must first pass a lengthy written examination known as the Qualifying Examination, which assesses their surgical knowledge.
  • Oral Exam: 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.

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Other Specialties
  • 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 a written exam or both written and oral exams. Prior certification in general surgery is also typically required for board certification in these specialties.

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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, surgeons must demonstrate a commitment to professionalism, continuing education, and practice improvement, as well as pass a written examination every 10 years.
  • In 2005 this process was expanded into Maintenance of Certification, a continuous professional development program with ongoing requirements for learning and assessment.

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Updated: April 2014

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