Types of certification

Which specialties and subspecialties are offered through the AOA's specialty certifying boards?

The AOA’s Department of Certifying Board Services administers the processes of board certification and Osteopathic Continuous Certification for 16 specialty certifying boards, offering certifications in 27 primary specialties and 48 subspecialties. View the full list.

What is primary certification?

Primary certification represents a distinct and well-defined field of osteopathic medical practice. Physicians earn primary board certification when they meet all requirements of the certifying board for a specified field of medicine.

What is subspecialty certification?

Subspecialty certification is a modification of a primary certificate to reflect additional training of at least one year in length and satisfactory completion of certifying examinations in that field. The training required for subspecialty certification must incorporate a specific and identifiable body of knowledge within the broader practice of the primary specialty. For example, a physician can hold general certification in family practice, with subspecialty certification in geriatric medicine.

What is OCC?

Osteopathic Continuous Certification (OCC) is a process through which board certified DOs maintain current status and demonstrate competency in their specialty area. The goals for OCC are to provide certified physicians with a process to continually assess and improve their skills and to assure patients and the public that certified physicians are being assessed through reliable and valid measures. Learn more and get details on the four components of OCC.

What is a conjoint examination committee?

A conjoint examination program is formed when the identifiable body of knowledge for subspecialty certification overlaps more than one specialty or subspecialty area.

What does CAQ stand for?

Certification of Added Qualifications. This is a term used solely by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians (AOBFP) to describe a subspecialty certification obtained under AOBFP’s jurisdiction.

Certification process

What are the eligibility requirements for certification?

To be eligible for AOA Board Certification, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. Graduate from one of the following:
    • A COCA-accredited college of osteopathic medicine.
    • A LCME-accredited medical school in the U.S. or Canada.
    • A medical school outside the U.S., provided you meet one of the following additional requirements:
      • Hold a currently valid certificate from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) prior to appointment.
      • Have completed a fifth pathway program provided by an LCME-accredited medical school.
  2. Graduate from an AOA- or ACGME-accredited residency/fellowship program in that specialty/subspecialty. The program director must verify that the resident has demonstrated the knowledge, skills and behaviors necessary to enter autonomous practice.
    • Eligibility requirements for OMT Performance Exam for non-DOs:
      • Completion of the osteopathic educational requirements of an ACGME-accredited program with Osteopathic Recognition as verified by the Director of Osteopathic Education.
      • Individuals who did not complete a program with osteopathic recognition may petition the AOBFP for eligibility. Learn more.
  3. Hold an active license to practice in a state or territory. If you have a restricted license, you may petition a specialty certifying board in order to enter the certification process based upon a review of the restriction.
  4. Follow the AOA Code of Ethics.
  5. Meet any specialty-specific requirements for board certification, which may include training and/or documented professional experience.
  6. Pass all required certification exams, which may include written, oral and/or clinical practice components.
How long does it take to become certified?

Duration of the certification process varies by specialty. Please view requirements from your specialty board to learn more.

What is the AOA’s process for review and approval of certification once a candidate has passed the final certification exam?

Once the AOA Department of Certifying Board Services receives your recommendation for certification from the specialty certifying board, your certification will be processed within eight weeks. The AOA is the final approving body for board certification. Prior to activation, AOA staff will verify that your training has been deemed complete by the program, specialty college and the AOA. You will receive written confirmation via email that your certification has been conferred. During this process:

  1. All training and specialty college requirements must be completed to ensure no delay in conferring certification.
  2. You must not claim to be certified until you receive a letter from the AOA conferring certification.

Certificates & credentialing

I received my letter from the AOA. When can I expect to receive my certificate?

The AOA will notify your specialty certifying board upon conferring your certification. The specialty board will process your certificate and it will be mailed to the address the specialty board has on file. The process should take no longer than 60 days from the day you receive your letter from the AOA.

Will I receive an electronic version of my certificate?

Yes. A Certified Electronic Certificate (CeCertificate) will be provided to AOA diplomates with initial or OCC certificates issued on or after Nov. 1, 2017.

How do I obtain verification that my certification is currently active?

Contact the AOA Customer Resource Center at (312) 202-8000 to verify your status. In order to request an official physician profile, which provides primary source verification of your certification status, visit the AOA Physician Profiles website or send an email to credentials@AOAprofiles.org. 

How can a third party obtain primary source verification of AOA certification?

Health care organizations, credentialers, and state medical licensing boards can order physician profiles by visiting AOA Physician Profiles. This service is free of charge for state medical licensing boards.

Why would a certification appear as "inactive" on the physician's profile?

If a physician does not meet the requirements for Osteopathic Continuous Certification (OCC), his or her certification may become inactive. Physicians should contact AOA Certifying Board Services at certification@osteopathic.org to find out what requirement(s) are not being met.

What happens to my AOA board certification if I have a restricted license?

A subcommittee of the Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists has been created to monitor license suspensions on a case-by-case basis with the input of the individual certifying board.

Osteopathic Continuous Certification

Who is required to participate in OCC?

All diplomates with primary or subspecialty time-limited certification are required to participate in Osteopathic Continuous Certification (OCC).

Diplomates who hold a non-time-limited primary certification may voluntarily participate in OCC. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) will accept OCC for Maintenance of Licensure (MOL). If you do not participate in OCC, you are required to maintain an active license to practice medicine and meet your specialty certifying board’s continuing medical education requirement. You also may have additional requirements for MOL as prescribed by the state(s) where you are licensed.

Will I remain certified if I don't participate in OCC?

By choosing not to participate in Osteopathic Continuous Certification (OCC), you are voluntarily suspending the rights to your board certification.

How do I start OCC for my specialty?

If you are a time-limited certificate holder, each specialty has its own OCC requirements. To learn more, visit your specialty’s website and review the requirements for OCC.

How can I track my progress on the continuous certification requirements?

You can log in to the AOA Physician Portal to view your progress toward meeting requirements for an Osteopathic Continuous Certification (OCC) cycle.

What components need to be completed before I take an OCC exam?

Component 1 (Active Licensure) must be verified prior to taking an Osteopathic Continuous Certification (OCC) examination.

Where can I view my CME report?

You can log in to the AOA Physician Portal to view your CME report and monitor progress toward meeting requirements for an Osteopathic Continuous Certification (OCC) cycle.

Why is the CME I submitted not showing up on my CME report?

It can take up to one week for CME credits to show up on your report. If you believe an error has been made, please contact the AOA Customer Resource Center (CRC) at crc@osteopathic.org or (312) 202-8000. The CRC is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.

Certification enhancements and options

What changes are coming in certification?

Based on extensive research and physician feedback, we are implementing changes to make certification more convenient, physician-friendly, and relevant to practice. These changes include:

  • Improving the clarity and relevance of exam questions.
  • Piloting and implementing technology (including mobile access) that delivers frequent small batches of exam questions supporting continuous longitudinal assessment.
  • Testing remote proctoring systems for OCC oral exams.
  • Providing shorter intervals for Osteopathic Continuous Certification as an alternative to the traditional 10-year recertification exam cycle

We’re also making sure that employers, insurers, regulators and patients continue to recognize AOA board certification as an indicator of clinical excellence. Active outreach to GME program directors will ensure they are informed and prepared to discuss certification options with residents.

I’m a DO but don’t do OMT regularly. What certification options are available for me?

The AOA is developing a new pathway to initial certification allowing physicians to become board-certified in a specialty only. In this pathway, you will take an exam that includes osteopathic principles and practice, but does not test knowledge of OMM/OMT.

This pathway is designed for DOs who train in programs and practice in settings where they do not use osteopathic methods regularly. Those who seek to certify their skill in osteopathic methods can pursue the traditional pathway, taking an exam that includes questions on OMM and OMT.

Distinct certificates will be awarded for each pathway. Development of high-quality, psychometrically valid exams is underway.

Why is the AOA offering a specialty-only option?

We are providing options that DOs want. The fast-growing osteopathic profession is increasingly diverse, and DOs train and practice differently. The profession comprises:

  • DOs who practice osteopathically and perform OMT;
  • those who practice osteopathically, but do not perform OMT; and
  • those who trained in ABMS residencies.

By providing options, we can attract the full range of DOs and encourage them to remain within the osteopathic medical profession and community.

We can also provide a certification pathway for MDs who trained in osteopathically-recognized programs. This advances our mission of providing access to holistic, patient-centered care to more patients.

How is Osteopathic Continuous Certification changing?

In keeping with physician preferences and industry trends, some AOA certifying boards are moving toward replacing the traditional high-stakes recertification exam offered at long multi-year intervals.

Instead, boards are moving toward offering online exams at shorter intervals. For instance, the American Osteopathic Board of Anesthesiology (AOBA) is replacing its 10-year OCC exam with an online, open-book assessment to be taken every three years.

In another approach, the American Osteopathic Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology is piloting a system called Advanced Real-time Certification that continuously delivers a small number of questions at short, regular intervals. Available online and via mobile devices, this system can tailor questions to a clinician’s practice.

This approach allows diplomates to test and document their knowledge continuously and conveniently, supporting lifelong learning. The American Osteopathic Board of Emergency Medicine is planning a similar pilot. Although there is natural variance across specialties, we anticipate that other boards will consider alternate approaches and timing for OCC assessment as well.

What are the cost implications of making all these changes?

The new model of Osteopathic Continuous Certification costs the same as the traditional path, and in many cases, even less than it used to cost.

How are the osteopathic specialty exams developed and verified?

All AOA certification exams are developed by practicing osteopathic physicians for practicing physicians. The AOA has convened a working group with members from the American Academy of Osteopathy, American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians, the American Osteopathic Board of Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine, and the AOA to guide development of osteopathic exams, including a practical component.

This group, known as the Distinctive Osteopathic Certification Committee, has been gathering input from DOs and will conduct a nationwide survey on the principles and methods of osteopathic medicine currently used in practice today. This input will guide exam development.

Certifying Board Services will ensure that the highest psychometric standards and best practice models are actively engaged to assure the validity of test development processes.

How will patients be able to distinguish DOs who hold osteopathic specialty certification versus those who are AOA boarded in their specialty only?

Distinctive certificates will be awarded for each certification pathway.

Physicians can include and explain that specialization in their bios and their profiles in provider directories. The AOA will work to educate patients, providers, and employers about the meaning of certification types.