• Dr. Dawn Harris Sherling

Board-certification ain’t what it used to be

I try to play by the rules.


I did well in my undergraduate studies and graduated with honors from medical school. I went on to complete an excellent residency-training program in internal medicine and passed my initial board certification exam. I joined the American College of Physicians. I met the benchmarks and was elected a fellow of the ACP. I bought nice frames for all of these diplomas and proudly hung them on the various office walls I have occupied.


And then, the only one of those diplomas that could expire was coming to its end date and I signed up for the American Board of Internal Medicine re-certification exam. I dutifully bought the Medical Knowledge Self-Assessment Program (MKSAP) collection and studied for months. I took the exam and passed it. I patiently waited for my diploma verifying I had done so, so that I could proudly display it on my wall.


Six months after taking the exam, a large, flat cardboard envelope appeared at my door. I smiled, as I knew it could only be one thing. I gingerly opened the cardboard, clearly labeled “Do Not Bend” and slipped out the familiar cream colored paper.


My smile slowly fell as I glanced down at my new ABIM certificate, for nowhere on the document did it declare that I was a board certified internist. Instead, the top quarter of the paper was devoted to a garish block print announcing that the document came from “THE AMERICAN BOARD OF INTERNAL MEDICINE,” while the bottom half was devoted to the 40 signatories’ names. It apparently takes a lot of people to run the ABIM as my certificate is just a few shy of the number of signatories of the Declaration of Independence and perhaps, coincidentally, the same number of signatories as the U.S. Constitution.


This normally would not have bothered me a bit as I am not really much of an aesthete, however, nowhere on the quarter that was left to declare my board certified status, did my diploma actually do so. Instead, like a bizarre flyer posted to a college bulletin board, the diploma urges anyone who reads it to visit the ABIM’s website to check on my board certification status. This is in stark contrast to the original ABIM diploma I have from ten years ago, which basically looks like a nice diploma relaying the information that I am a board-certified internist.


To replace my original ABIM diploma and after ten years of playing by the ABIM’s rules, I get a $2,000 oversized, tacky-looking flyer advertising their website and encouraging my patients to second-guess my board certified status. I, along with my fellow internists, deserve better than this. Three years later, my non-diploma is still laying in a desk drawer.

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