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AAOS Now

Published 10/1/2019
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Ann E. Van Heest, MD

Subspecialty Certification: What Does It Mean?

Certification improves education and highlights the bodies of knowledge unique to the practices of Orthopaedic Sports Medicine and Surgery of the Hand

Approximately 2,500 orthopaedic surgeons hold an American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) Subspecialty Certificate in Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. Another 1,900 have a Surgery of the Hand Subspecialty Certificate. There are even 37 ABOS Diplomates who have both Subspecialty Certificates. With approximately 29,000 total ABOS Diplomates, only a small percentage can claim Subspecialty Certification.

Have you completed an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited one-year fellowship in Orthopaedic Sports Medicine or Surgery of the Hand? If so, you may be eligible to apply for ABOS Subspecialty Certification. Subspecialty Certification improves education and highlights the bodies of knowledge unique to the practices of Orthopaedic Sports Medicine and Surgery of the Hand.

The applications for the 2020 Subspecialty Certification Examinations can be found on your ABOS Dashboard. Applications are due by Feb. 3, 2020. The 2020 Examinations will be given Aug. 11, 2020, at Prometric Testing Centers across the country and will consist of 175 multiple-choice questions over a four-hour period. The examinations are designed to evaluate a Diplomate’s cognitive knowledge relevant to Orthopaedic Sports Medicine or Surgery of the Hand. Examination blueprints showing the content breakdowns are available at www.abos.org.

The Subspecialty Certificates are designed to give recognition to ABOS Board Certified orthopaedic surgeons who have demonstrated qualifications in Orthopaedic Sports Medicine or Surgery of the Hand by virtue of additional training, a practice characterized by a volume of cases in Sports Medicine or Hand Surgery, and significant contributions to those fields.

“Eligibility to sit for each examination is determined by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery Credentials Committee, and the passing rates for the examinations are generally higher than 95 percent.”

After meeting the requirements to sit for and then passing both the ABOS Part I and II Examinations, an orthopaedic surgeon becomes an ABOS Board Certified Diplomate for 10 years, holding a General Orthopaedic Surgery Certificate. After earning that and meeting the application requirements, a Diplomate can apply for a Subspecialty Certificate in Orthopaedic Sports Medicine or Surgery of the Hand Examination. This can be done as early as the same year a Diplomate earns his or her initial ABOS Board Certification but requires the Diplomate to meet the practice requirements for the Subspecialty Certificate.

For Orthopaedic Sports Medicine, a Diplomate must submit a one-year case list that contains at least 115 operative cases and 10 nonoperative cases in the field of orthopaedic sports medicine. Of the operative cases, 75 must involve arthroscopy as a component of the procedure. Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that qualify as orthopaedic sports medicine cases are listed on the ABOS website at www.abos.org.

For Surgery of the Hand, a Diplomate must submit a one-year case list of 125 surgeries of the hand that meet the required number of cases in five of nine categories. Those categories, the number required for each category, and CPT codes that qualify as surgery of the hand cases can be found on www.abos.org.

Eligibility to sit for each examination is determined by the ABOS Credentials Committee, and the passing rates for the examinations are generally higher than 95 percent. Last year, the Surgery of the Hand Examination had a 100 percent passing rate.

Upon passing, an ABOS Diplomate receives a Subspecialty Certificate with an expiration date matching his or her General Certificate. Recertification of both Certificates will then consist of one Combined Examination—offered as either a computer-based or oral examination—or the new Web-based Longitudinal Assessment (ABOS WLA). Although you can recertify with an Oral Examination or the ABOS WLA program, you must sit for and pass the Computer Examination to earn the Initial Certification.

Diplomates who successfully complete the ABOS Subspecialty Certification process will receive an ABOS Board Certified lapel pin that indicates Subspecialty Certification, demonstrating a Diplomate’s expertise. There are also Subspecialty Certification widgets available to post on Diplomates’ websites.

If a Diplomate chooses not to earn a Subspecialty Certificate but still specializes in the practice of Orthopaedic Sports Medicine or Surgery of the Hand, he or she may take a Practice-profiled Orthopaedic Sports Medicine or Surgery of the Hand Recertification Examination as part of the Maintenance of Certification process. The Computer Practice-profiled Recertification Examinations, like all ABOS Practice-profiled Recertification Examinations, only contain questions pertinent to that specific practice area. With the ABOS WLA, a Diplomate may also choose to focus on one area of orthopaedic surgery.

Although the ABOS is solely responsible for the design and administration of the Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Subspecialty Examination, the Surgery of the Hand Examination is developed and administered by The Joint Committee (TJC) on Surgery of the Hand. TJC consists of representation from the American Boards of Orthopaedic Surgery, Plastic Surgery, and Surgery.

If you have any questions about Subspecialty Certification, contact the ABOS office at 919-929-7103.

Ann E. Van Heest, MD, is chair of the ABOS Subspecialty Examinations Committee. She holds Subspecialty Certification in Surgery of the Hand.