Until the 1990s, a physician's certification in his or her specialty was good for life. Now, a change in the law has some doctors across 147 specialties facing a retest of their skills for the first time since they left medical school.
Although over 250,000 physicians were grandfathered in to lifetime certificates, some acknowledge the value in voluntarily retesting, including Dr. Stephen Mester, 52, a cardiologist at Brandon Regional Hospital in Brandon, Fla. "I am choosing to renew. It's just an opportunity to maintain my skills and confirm to myself that I can do what I've been trained to do," he told the Associated Press. "Most of what I do today didn't exist, and some of it not even thought of, when I was in medical school."
A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine indicates that doctors' actual knowledge does not match what they think they know, and that performance declines with years in practice. However, critics of the testing say that recalling facts from memory is an outdated concept, as modern physicians put more emphasis on leveraging available, often electronic, references.
Nonetheless, the recertification tests are a work in progress. In the future, some boards may assess a doctor's communication skills with patients or rate a doctor's technical skills and directly observe performance, Joseph Green, chief education officer of the American College of Cardiology, told the AP.
Barbara Duck noted on her blog, The Medical Quack, that recertification is probably not a bad idea as long as it is done correctly and not used to "grade" physicians, which may cause even more of them to leave medicine.