Degrees, and Board Certification: Page 1
This 5-page essay is a chapter from an as-yet-unpublished book that Dr. Denenberg
has written on how to find a competent plastic surgeon.
"If your doctor
is a board certified plastic surgeon, you are assured that he is
highly skilled and can give you the results you desire."
Have you ever run across
that advice in a
magazine article? Well, don't
believe it: it's not true.
magazine article, newspaper report, and advertisement about plastic
surgery mentions the issue of board certification, so it's crucial that
you understand why
that frequently-heard assertion is false.
In this essay, we'll discuss the boards,
academies, and institutions that you see on diplomas, in articles and in
advertisements. You'll learn
what they mean to you in your search for the right plastic
The road to board certification
To understand board certification, you should
first learn a little about how a surgeon is trained.
After college, a future doctor enters medical school.
Four years later, the med student receives his M.D. degree.
He is now able to call himself a "doctor" or a
"physician," and to sign his name with an "M.D."
He is not yet ready to practice surgery.
The new physician will then enter a one-year
internship, during which he continues his study of medicine and surgery at
a university. The
"intern" is closely supervised, and he is not in private
practice. He does not yet
have his own patients.
During medical school and internship, the
physician takes a series of examinations. He must pass these
exams in order to obtain a license to practice medicine and continue with
the next step in his education, the residency.
During the residency, the doctor receives
detailed instruction in his primary field of surgery.
We now call the doctor a "resident physician," or simply
a "resident." It
has nothing to do with where he lives.
He is still at the university, and he is still learning how to care
for patients, but now he is more advanced in his knowledge, in his final
stage of training. The
residency can last longer than medical school!
If the doctor successfully completes his residency, he
graduates (without receiving another degree), leaves the university, and
may now hang out a shingle and practice his field of surgery.
(We jokingly say that he is now an "R.D.,"
He can have his own office, his own practice, his own patients.
He is not yet board certified.
He does not have to be board certified to practice medicine;
just needs to have successfully completed his residency training.
In fact, many of the certifying boards require that a doctor
practice in his field of surgery for a year or two before he will even be allowed to take the board certification
Some doctors will take another year or two of
training after the residency.
This additional training is called a fellowship, and its
purpose is to sharply hone the doctor's skills in one highly-specialized
area of surgery. For example, an orthopedic surgeon might take a fellowship in
surgery of the hand. Or in the
field of cosmetic surgery, a doctor might take a fellowship in plastic surgery of
After the doctor has completed his residency, he
is ready to take the board certification exam in his field
of surgery. For example, a
doctor who completed a neurosurgery residency would take the exam given by
the American Board of Neurosurgery. Most
boards have both written exams and oral exams, given at different times of
the year, and the doctor must pass both exams in order to receive his
A doctor is not a "member" of a board;
he is "board certified" by the board.
He is also called a "diplomate" of the board.
Diplomate doesn't mean that he's an ambassador; it means that the certifying board has given him a
for passing the exams.