Is the Colon Surgeon Board Certified?

How to Choose a Colon Surgeon: Consideration #4

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If you need to have surgery for colon cancer—or for any surgical procedure—there's no doubt you want someone knowledgeable and whom you can trust. It's best if the person who operates on your colon is a colorectal surgeon rather than a general surgeon.

Why? Because board-certified colorectal surgeons are specialist with extensive training in this specific area of the body, and they have been tested in this area.

They spend their time learning about and gaining experience specifically in colorectal diseases.

Licensed Doctors and Board Certified Doctors

All doctors who practice medicine in the U.S. must be licensed in the state where they work. This is a general license that applies to all doctors no matter their specialties; however, it does not validate any specializations they may work in, such as surgery. 

Licensed doctors and board-certified doctors have both gone through medical school and residency. Doctors can then continue their training on past residency if they choose to, specializing and even subspecializing in a particular area of medicine through a fellowship. 

Board certification is a further level of qualification that a doctor can voluntarily pursue within their specialty. This test certifies their expertise and knowledge within their specialty. There are 24 medical specialty boards in the U.S.

The board certification test is an intense written exam taken with no assistance. Some specialty boards also require an oral examination as well.

Board Certification for Doctors

According to the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery (ABCRS), a board-certified colorectal surgeon has successfully completed at least a five-year ACGME-approved training program in general surgery and one additional year in an ACGME-approved colon and rectal surgery residency.

(ACGME is the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.) The doctor has also passed both written (qualifying) and oral (certifying) exams given by the ABCRS.

Board certification is valid for 10 years, after which it must be renewed. This intended to ensure that surgeons stay aware of changes in the field, new discoveries and techniques, best practices and that they remain competent in their field. It is referred to as maintenance of certification, or M.O.C. If a doctor does not does not recertify, they are flagged as "not meeting M.O.C. requirements." It is important to note that doctors who became certified before 1990 are exempt—they don't need to be re-tested.

Each medical board implements its own requirements for M.O.C., but in general they require the physician to:

  • Maintain their medical license in good standing.
  • Conduct surveys of patients and peers to measure the doctor's professionalism and communication skills.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and skill through a written exam.
  • Show a continuing pursuit of learning, such as through educational courses or other board-approved tool for learning about new developments in the field.
  • Submit evidence of performance self-review, such as patient case records.

How to Find a Board-Certified Colorectal Surgeon

You can find out if the doctors on your list are board-certified colorectal surgeons by visiting the American Board of Medical Specialties website certificationmatters.org, searching for your surgeon in the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery database or by calling the ABMS at 1-866-ASK-ABMS. You have to register to use the website, which is a pain, but registration is free.

For more information on finding a surgeon, check out How to Find a Colon Surgeon: Seven Questions to Consider.

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