I just got back from Oakland after my medical board hearing. I got destroyed. It wasn’t a hearing before the medical board as I wrongfully assumed, it was a full-on courtroom with a presiding administrative judge and the medical board attorney. I had no place being there without a lawyer. More on that in another post.
I learned something interesting during the hearing which I think is worth sharing with readers. As you know, claiming to be ‘board certified’ has certain conditions associated with it. In order to claim you are board certified you have to meet the criteria set forth by your state’s Business and Professions Code.
You aren’t taught this in medical school, nor in residency. Your CME’s don’t discuss this and your board certification exam doesn’t review it. It’s on you to know it so read on.
Board Certified in California
I was board certified by the ABMS up until December of last year. I have decided to let my board certification under the ABFM lapse and decided to go with NBPAS for my board certification. I have several reasons why I decided to go this route which I’ve shared on this website before.
During the hearing, the California medical board attorney asked me on the witness stand if I was board certified and I said yes. She then proceeded to point out to the administrative judge why I was, in fact, not considered to be board certified.
The California medical board adheres to the Business and Professions Code regarding claiming to be board certified. Specifically, section 651(h).
Apparently this was a recent amendment – January 1st, 2019, just 2 months ago. Prior to this you could petition the California medical board to recognize your non-ABMS board specialty. Though I’m not sure if they would recognize NBPAS even if you petitioned prior to this amendment.
ACGME Postgraduate Training
Take a look at #2 in the screenshot above and it reads as though you would be considered board certified and could claim it if you completed an ACGME accredited postgraduate training program.
Alternative to Claiming to be Board Certified
If you choose to get out from under the ABMS it doesn’t mean that you can’t claim a board certification in California with an alternate credentialing body. It’s just that you can’t use the word ‘board certified’.
It’s like a ™ which can only be used with a particular product. This is important to California because they recognize that the public assumes something about a physician who claims to be board certified. And that’s that the physician is routinely tested and held to a high standard.
This is rather fair. If you’re going to be in charge of licensees then it’s important that you safeguard the grammar to prevent any confusion. They aren’t prohibiting you from using other verbiage to describe your non-ABMS affiliations.
California lets you claim to be a ‘diplomate’ or ‘member’ or ‘approved by’ to indicate that you have an affiliation with a particular specialty. You can even say that your expertise is in Family Medicine or Internal Medicine. I’m not sure if you can say you are a specialist in those specialties.
NBPAS in California
I looked through the NBPAS FAQ section and found that they highlight their lack of penetration with California and Texas. Again, you can still practice in California but you cannot use certain terminology regarding your board certification status or board specialty.
If you have your own medical practice then it’s important that you consult with an attorney who is familiar with this. If a state has this kind of a law then you have to assume that there are similar laws which may not be on your radar.
In fact, I was looking through the California medical board website and there are a lot of different rules regarding what you can claim as a physician in advertising and other patient-facing claims. It’s rather interesting but unless you have a ton of free time it can be hard to read through all of it.
Board Certification in Other States
I hold a license in OR and WA as well. I am allowed to claim to be board certified in those states because I am not restricted to the ABMS (parent company of ABFM) for a board specialty designation.
This creates a bit of an issue when seeing online patients and needs to be addressed. I just don’t know by whom. Can I say I’m board certified to another person because I’m board certified in another state? What if that person is from CA? How would I know they are from CA?
If you have an online profile and a patient from California can access it then it’s on you to address that. I will look through my many online profiles and see if and where I am making that claim because I’m in enough trouble and don’t need more.
Don’t claim to be board certified. It doesn’t help you in any way if you’re a family medicine doctor. The average patient is intelligent enough to have sought you out and can determine for themselves if you are capable and competent.
You can say that you attended a Family Medicine residency. Or that you are affiliated with the NBPAS who recognizes you as a Family Medicine physician. Even this you need to run by a lawyer if you have your own practice or see patients across multiple state lines.
What about an employer or an affiliate company who advertises you as being board certified and does business across multiple state lines? Such is the case which came up for me during my California medical board hearing.
If they are advertising you to be a board certified physician to their clients or patients in other states then they are the ones violating the Business and Professions Code. This doesn’t mean that you can play dumb to this. If you know about this then you should document that you have taken steps to point it out to that medical group or entity.
I don’t think the medical board will be vindictive in such cases. If you are found to have made such a claim erroneously and there isn’t any sign that you did it intentionally I would expect that they will point this out to you and give you a chance to correct it.