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Why Your Orthopedic Surgeon Should Be Board Certified or Board-Eligible

When you are searching for an orthopedic surgeon, you’ll probably notice that some physicians refer to themselves as “board-certified” or “board-eligible”. While you likely recognize that it’s a good thing, you may not understand exactly what this term means. We’ll explain just what board certification entails and why you want your orthopedic surgeon to have this distinction.

How does an orthopedic surgeon become board certified?

It’s important to understand what it takes to become an orthopedic surgeon and what’s required before one can even attempt to become board-certified. An orthopedic surgeon specializes in in treating the musculoskeletal system—meaning the bones, ligaments, tendons, joints, and muscles of your body. After completing four years of undergraduate study and four years of medical school, a prospective orthopedic surgeon will complete a four- or five-year residency, learning the specialty. Some will choose to pursue a fellowship beyond this, gaining additional, comprehensive clinical experience in a specific field of orthopedic surgery. Before being allowed to practice medicine, he or she must also become licensed by the state in which he or she works.

Once these requirements have been met, an orthopedic surgeon can apply for board certification. While they are preparing for the exam, they are known as being “board-eligible”. Becoming board-certified is optional, unlike medical licensing, which is required for every practicing physician. There are three main organizations that oversee certification: the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS), and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Each certifying board may operate slightly differently, but all require the passing of a grueling written, and sometimes oral, exam to demonstrate the surgeon’s expertise in the field. Some boards also require a certain amount of clinical practice experience before final certification can be given.

From there, most boards require taking another exam every 7-10 years to maintain certification.

What does board certification tell you about your orthopedic surgeon?

So, what does this all mean to you as a patient? Quite a lot, in fact. Knowing that your orthopedic surgeon is board-certified or board-eligible provides you with some important information. You can feel confident that your surgeon:

  • Is dedicated to the specialty – Everyone knows becoming a physician takes dedication. But becoming board-certified is that one extra, voluntary step that shows you your orthopedic surgeon has proven to have the knowledge and skills needed to be the best of the best in that field.
  • Is committed to ongoing learning – The field of medicine is always growing, changing, and improving. Board certification ensures that your orthopedic surgeon will continue to advance his or her clinical knowledge and skills.
  • Is held to the highest standards of performance – Your orthopedic surgeon must adhere to a code of ethics and remain in good standing with the certifying board in order to maintain certification.

How do you know if your orthopedic surgeon is board certified?

When scheduling a consultation or appointment with your doctor, be sure to ask for his or her credentials. Also, check to see which specific board your surgeon is a member of.

You can also verify this information with the agency that oversees your surgeon’s board certification—the ABMS, the AOA, or the ABPS. You can enter your orthopedic surgeon’s name on their website or call the agency directly.

When it comes to your health, you don’t want to take any decisions lightly. You want to make informed choices to ensure you’ll have good outcomes, so it’s crucial that you take your time and do your research when choosing a provider. There are a number of things you should look for in a reputable orthopedic surgeon, and board certification should be one of them.

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Grant D. Shifflett, MD

About the author

Grant D. Shifflett, MD Dr. Grant D. Shifflett is a fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon. Handpicked by Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr. to join DISC Sports & Spine Center, Dr. Shifflett specializes in the application of minimally invasive and microsurgical techniques to the entire spectrum of cervical, thoracic and lumbar spinal conditions, from the simple to the most complex. Whether treating a patient with chronic pain or an acute injury, his ultimate goal is to restore function and quality of life with minimal tissue disruption. Read more articles by Grant D. Shifflett, MD.