What Exactly is Board Certification?

Board certification is the recognition of individuals who have demonstrated an interest in a field of specialty within their profession, have met specific specialized educational requirements in that field of interest, have shown their specific medical knowledge through written and oral examination, and have demonstrated a practical standard of competency in that area of specialization.  It is a rather long and arduous process, and any podiatric physician who has been certified by a particular board has passed the rigid standards of qualification and examination set forth by that particular board of examiners.  

Common Misunderstandings About Board Certification

Many myths exist regarding board certification.  One common misunderstanding by the laity is that all physicians need to be board certified to legally practice medicine. They don't.  Board certification is an extra level of achievement beyond school, residency and licensure.

Another erroneous belief is that board certification is the same as passing the provincial or state licensure board.  It's not.  The board certification exam process is much more strenuous--and it's an optional one.  Only those physicians who wish to demonstrate interest and achievement in a certain field attempt to achieve board certified. 

Another common myth is that all boards offering board-certification are the same.  They're not.  In fact, there may be several boards that offer board certification.  But only those boards that are recognized by their professional association are seen as credible by that profession.

For example, the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) recognizes only two boards:

1.  The American Board Of Podiatric Surgery  

2.  The American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine

What's the difference between these two boards?

Podiatric Surgery is the medical specialty of foot and ankle surgery.  It integrates the surgical and medical management of foot diseases, deformities and trauma, and those structures that affect the foot and ankle.  

Podiatric Medicine and Orthopedics (Orthopedics is the Canadian spelling) is the medical specialty concerned with the comprehensive and continuous foot health care of patients. It integrates the biomechanical, rehabilitative, biological, clinical and behavioral sciences and encompasses first contact care, continuous care, long term care and general medicine.

What Is The Board Certification Process?

The board certification process varies somewhat with each medical discipline, and it has evolved over time.  But today, for podiatric medicine, the process begins after getting your doctorate, and proceeds as follows: 

1.  Completion of a particular type of residency or alternative education process and training that is recognized by the board of examiners.
 
2.  The next step requires the candidate to undergo a rigorous and comprehensive written examination carefully constructed by professional examiners to maintain the highest standards.  This exam tests the academic and clinical knowledge that is necessary to achieve certification.  Sitting for the written test for either of the podiatric boards had traditionally meant a trip to Chicago, though this has changed in recent years.  The test may now be taken in regional centers around the U.S.. 
 
3.  Once the candidate passes the written examination, and demonstrates basic sound understanding of his or her field, the candidate must demonstrate that he is able to translate that basic knowledge into a competent level of practice.  At this stage, the candidate goes back into practice and has up to seven years to assemble a diverse array of cases for approval by the credentials committee.  These cases involve actual patients treated by the physician. The documentation consists of the charts, x-rays and other imaging, consults, operative and perioperative notes, and other information of the involved patients displaying the outcome of the physicianís treatment. This qualification serves to ascertain that the physician is performing at a high level, as established by leaders in that particular medical field.  
 
4.  After case approval is achieved, the candidate must fly to Chicago to undertake timed oral examination to evaluate the candidateís clinical judgment and reasoning skills.  Conducted over two days, the exam involves multiple, one-on-one interviews with different examiners, where the candidate is given a clinical situation and is required to rationalize the proper diagnosis based on limited information. The candidate must also identify treatment options based on the conclusion he has reached.

When a board certification candidate passes the examination, the board-certified physician is called a "Diplomate" of that organization.  In order to retain this status, Diplomates must maintain continuing education and re-certify on a regular basis.

If there are two recognized podiatric medical boards offering board certification, does this mean individuals certified by both boards have undertaken the above process twice, in different disciplines?

Yes.  And as you might imagine, doing this twice is a particularly long and difficult undertaking.  

The process requires a great deal of studying to pass both the written and oral examinations, a great deal of cost and effort trying to assemble all the materials required simply to be allowed even to sit for the examination, and a great deal of cost and inconvenience to take time off from one's practice to repeatedly fly to Chicago, and to stay in hotels for several days each time.   

Are there any podiatric medical certification boards in Canada or other countries? 

There are no separate  podiatric medical boards in different countries.  Doctors of Podiatric Medicine in the U.S., Canada and other countries are all certified by the same boards--the The American Board Of Podiatric Surgery  and The American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine.

So how should the patient consider board certification?

Board-certified podiatrists have, by a rigid and difficult examination process,  set themselves apart from other non-certified physicians by demonstrating a particular level of interest, training and basic competence in certain areas of medical specialization. 

In podiatric medicine, patients may wish to use board certification by one of the two recognized podiatric boards as one factor to consider when choosing a podiatrist.  For more information about these boards, please visit their websites by clicking onto the board in which you are interested:  

The American Board Of Podiatric Surgery  
The American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine

 

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S. A. Schumacher, D.P.M., F.A.C.F.A.S., F.A.C.F.A.O.M.  
Dr. S. A. Schumacher, Podiatric Corporation  

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