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Steven M. Denenberg, M.D.
Steven M. Denenberg, M.D.


Diplomas, Degrees, and Board Certification: Page 4

Board certified, board eligible, board qualified

You may read in an advertisement that a plastic surgeon is "board eligible" or "board qualified."  A doctor who is board eligible or board qualified is not board certified.  "Board eligible" is a standard, well-known term that means the doctor has graduated from his residency and completed the requirements for taking his boardís certification exam, but he hasnít taken and passed that exam yet.  The board will allow him to take the test; he is eligible to take the test.

The doctor may have already taken the exam, and flunked it, twice, but he is still board eligible if the board allows him to try again.  On the other hand, the board eligible doctor may be a very talented surgeon, but he simply hasn't been in practice long enough to take the test yet.  Many boards require some practice experience before the doctor may sit for the exam, and the test is only given once a year.

"Board qualified" means the same thing as "board eligible": the doctor has permission from the board to take the exam if he so wishes.  But "board qualified" sounds more like "board certified" than "board eligible" does, so it's a better marketing term.  Neither board eligible nor board qualified is an official term recognized by the certifying boards, but many people know what they mean and use them.

Using board certification in your search for a doctor

It is a good idea to check that your doctor is board certified by at least one of the boards listed at the end of this essay.  Why?  Although it does not speak specifically to his skill in the operating room, your doctor's board certification does show that he has done a serious amount of study and has made the effort to take and pass the exams.  Also, as part of the examination process, the board will have ascertained for you that the doctor truly has an M.D. degree from a real medical school, that he has a license to practice medicine, and that he completed a residency appropriate to his board certification.  (To find our advice on how to find a competent plastic surgeon, click on the link in the navigation bar at left that says "Find a surgeon.")

During your consultation with the plastic surgeon you are considering hiring, find out if he is board certified, but donít get crazy about which board did the certifying.  The plastic surgeon that you are interviewing knows that he competes with the other plastic surgeons in town for your business, and it's not uncommon for a doctor to criticize another plastic surgeon during your consultation because that doctor was certified by a different certifying board.  If that happens, tell your plastic surgeon politely that you really would be much more interested in some solid evidence of his competence and skill than in his diplomas or what he thinks of someone elseís diplomas.

Some patients give the diplomas more than just a glance.  I walked into my consultation room one day to see a middle-aged woman who had come to talk about a face lift.  As I entered, she was standing right next to my diploma wall, eyeglasses off, her face literally one inch from one of the certificates.  Oh, boy, I thought, this poor lady is so nearsighted that she has to touch her nose to the diplomas just to be able to read them.

I introduced myself, and she turned back to the diploma she had been studying.  "Know what I do for a living?" she asked.

"No.  What."  That's me trying to be glib and engaging.

"I examine diplomas to see if they are real or forgeries."

You probably don't have to be that thorough examining your doctor's diplomas.

Board certification in plastic surgery advertising

Let's look at some examples of copy from real plastic surgery advertisements.  You have probably seen some of these before.  Note how easy it is now to spot how board certification is used deceptively to try to get your business.

"Dr. Smith is board certified by the National Board of Plastic Surgeons, your assurance of his skill."  His certification does not address his ability to perform your surgery.

"Spend five minutes looking at your doctor's credentials before you spend a lifetime looking at his work."  That line, proudly composed by an advertising agency, is ironically inverted.  As we'll see in the next chapter, you should spend five minutes looking at his previous work -- his before and after pictures -- before deciding to hire him.  His credentials donít help you.

"Make sure that your plastic surgeon is board certified by (insert name of a board here), because it's the only board

  • that certifies real plastic surgeons. . ."

  • recognized by the American Medical. . ."

  • approved by the National Association of. . ."

  • authorized by. . ."

This is meaningless advertising hype, and it's likely to be blatantly inaccurate.  Plastic surgery linguistic tip: in general, whenever you see the word "only" in a plastic surgery article or advertisement, you can safely ignore the sentence containing it.