What is Board Certification, and Why Is It Important?

After medical school, graduates enter into training programs called residencies. These structured apprenticeships, which range from three to six years, allow a doctor to learn a specialty. Legitimate residencies are carefully monitored for quality by various entities, and once a trainee has completed a legitimate residency, he or she qualifies to take a board examination for that specialty (“board eligible”). Once a trainee passes the board examination, he or she is “board certified.” Unfortunately, there has been a proliferation of bogus boards in the United States, some of which require little effort to “pass,” so the term “board certified” can be misleading. Furthermore, being board certified in a given specialty does not give one the skills or the license to practice another specialty outside the practitioner’s original scope of training. Legitimate boards are supervised and listed by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). In general, you should always seek medical care from a physician certified by a board endorsed by the ABMS. To learn more about the ABMS, click here.

Board certification by an ABMS-approved board requires a high degree of expertise in any given specialty. Surgical boards such as urology and plastic surgery, in addition to written examinations, require that procedures performed after training but during a period of “board eligibility” undergo scrutiny by board examiners. Only those doctors who demonstrate proficiency on written examination, oral examination, and by virtue of their surgical performance are granted “board certified” status. Furthermore, a practitioner’s behavior, ethics, relationships with other doctors, allied health professionals, and patients are also evaluated by the examining board.

Board certification does not, however, make someone competent in all procedures. It simply means the practitioner has met a certain standard and is felt to have the skill set necessary to tackle clinical problems that may arise during their practice. The board certified practitioner has a solid foundation for creative thinking and for future learning which will be assessed during periodic re-certification. Continuing medical education and testing is required.

General urologists receive training in the care of adults and children as part of their training and certification, though most board certified urologists do not do much in the way of complicated pediatric urology.  The American Board of Urology and the ABMS have created a separate Certificate of Added Qualification for Pediatric Urology, with is own standards for training, testing, and certification.  To be invited to sit for the CAQ in Pediatric Urology, candidates must complete additional fellowship training in pediatric urology after their general urology training.  This training and certification is considered the standard of care for pediatric urology by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Urology is the only specialty that focuses on the genitourinary tract, and most hospitals require board certification in urology to perform procedures on the genitourinary tract. If your child is having surgery on the genitourinary tract, make sure your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Urology and holds a Certificate of Added Qualification in Pediatric Urology.  Click on the links for the American Board of Urology, the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and the American Board of Medical Specialties to research Dr. Schaeffer or any other surgeon you are considering for your child’s care.

Dr. Schaeffer completed eight clinical years of surgical training after graduation from medical school – residencies in urology and plastic surgery, and a separate fellowship in pediatric urology. He is certified by the American Board of Urology and the American Board of Plastic Surgery, one of only a handful of similarly trained individuals in the United States. Of those, he is the only one with additional fellowship training in pediatric urology.  He was among the first group of pediatric urologists in the United States to be tested for and to receive a Certificate of Added Qualification in Pediatric Urology.  His associations during his professional career include the American Urological Association, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Surgeons, and numerous state and local medical societies. Click on the highlighted names of these organizations to learn more about them.