Certification Categories

Certified-Active –
includes individuals who have successfully passed both Part I and II exams and who are actively practicing cardiothoracic surgery. It also includes those Diplomates who are involved in direct or supervised cardiothoracic patient care, but whose practice does not include operative thoracic surgery (e.g., critical care, clinic or office practice, clinical research involving direct patient contact). Diplomates in this category are required to participate in all parts of MOC (i.e., Parts I-IV). Diplomates who are Certified-Active are expected to pay the annual dues. 

Certified-Inactive – includes individuals who have applied and been accepted for inactive status. This category includes Diplomates who have temporarily interrupted their clinical practice due to illness/injury, administrative positions, graduate studies, elected/appointed political office, etc. This category would include Diplomates who have direct or supervise patient care in a field other than thoracic surgery. Diplomates in this category are required to participate in all parts of MOC except Part IV (evaluation of performance in practice). For additional information please refer to the Board’s Inactive Status Policy. Diplomates who are Certified-Inactive are expected to pay the annual dues.  For example, if you are only doing veins in an office setting, you can go through MOC as Certified-Inactive.

Retired and/or Disabled – includes individuals who are certified, but who have notified the Board of their retirement and/or disability and for whom return to active practice or inactive practice is unlikely. Retired and/or Disabled Diplomates are not required to participate in MOC. However, Diplomates in this category who anticipate return to medical practice should consider changing their status to Certified-Inactive and participate in MOC before their certificate expires. Diplomates who are Retired and/or Disabled do not need to pay the annual dues.

Not Certified – includes Diplomates who have allowed their certificates to lapse and/or those whose certificates have been suspended or revoked. Diplomates with lapsed, suspended or revoked certificates will be referred to as “not certified” without further clarification. Diplomates who are no longer certified are not allowed to participate in the MOC process. Diplomates who hold lapsed certificates can only renew their certificate by retaking and passing the Qualifying (Part I) and Certifying (Part II) examinations.

This category also includes all individuals who have not taken and passed both Part I and II certification exams. Individuals who have applied and been accepted for examination, but who have not yet taken and passed both Part I and II will be referred to as “in the certification process” without further clarification.


Inactive Status

Activities calling for such status might include, but are not limited to, academic sabbaticals, advanced studies, elected/appointed political office, temporary disability from illness/injury, or appointment to administrative or research positions in hospitals, medical schools or health related industries.

Diplomates can remain on Inactive status for as long as they want. By applying for Inactive status, Diplomates certify that they will refrain from the clinical practice of thoracic surgery for the entire duration of the Inactive status. Responses of the Board to inquiries about such Diplomates will indicate their status to be “Certified-Inactive”.

In order to maintain their Certified-Inactive status, such Diplomates are required to participate in all portions of the Board’s Maintenance of Certification program except Part IV (“evaluation of performance in practice”).

An individual with an inactive certificate wishing to resume clinical thoracic surgery and reactivate his/her certificate must first write a letter to the Board. Prior to reactivation, the Board will consider the length of time that the Diplomate was inactive, the type of disability (if applicable), the types of activities in which the Diplomate has been involved and other factors. Before reactivating his/her certificate, the Board may require that the Diplomate acquire additional education and/or supervised practice and possibly repeat all or part of the original certification process.


Renewing a Lapsed or Expired Certificate

Diplomates then need to take and pass the Part II (Certifying) Exam. This policy applies to Diplomates who did not successfully complete the former Recertification process and/or the current MOC process. Diplomates who hold an invalid certificate prior to 2010 must take and pass the Part I (Qualifying) and Part II (Certifying) Examinations in order to obtain a valid certificate.


Guidelines for Re-entry to Surgical Practice

1. Voluntary withdrawal from practice

2. Involuntary withdrawal from practice due to medical issues

3. Involuntary withdrawal from practice for performance or professionalism issues
  • The re-entry pathway must recognize that ABTS certification requires competence in all aspects of the discipline of Thoracic Surgery, as is true for the primary certification and for Maintenance of Certification (MOC).
  • For those Diplomates in whom their time away from clinical practice is less than two years, please contact the Board office.
  • The following re-entry pathway is warranted after two or more years away from surgical practice and should address the following elements:

Re-entry Elements

1. Assessment of status of practice at departure
  • The surgeon should provide reference letters from the 1) chief of surgery; and 2) chair of credentials committee at the primary practice location of the individual at the time of his or her departure from practice. The letters will specifically address any issues relevant to surgical practice such as malpractice history, professionalism or patient care issues.
2. Re-entry pathway constructed by the local physician champion
  • Specifics of the re-entry pathway should be constructed by the local physician champion and approved by the ABTS. This plan will include assessment of the six competencies: medical knowledge; patient care; professionalism; communication; practice-based learning; and systems-based practice. Medical knowledge will have individualized assessment based on factors such as certificate/MOC status and duration of clinical inactivity. Patient care will be assessed by the proctor. Individualized pathways may warrant additional assessment of patient care (e.g., oral examination) depending on circumstances. Individuals who withdrew involuntarily from practice (groups 2 and 3 above) will also usually require assessment of physical and/or mental health status by a specialist.
3. Proctoring plan
  • All pathways should include a proctoring plan. The duration of proctoring will be individualized based on factors such as complexity of anticipated clinical practice. A local proctor who is a Diplomate of the ABTS must be identified and agree to serve in this role for the duration of the trial period. The proctor will provide a final assessment based on the six competencies. The plan will include an individualized operative case log.
4. Examination Requirements
  • The individual will be required to come into compliance with the ABTS examination requirements as needed based on his or her individual situation.

  • Individuals seeking to re-enter practice should consult with the ABTS regarding their situation prior to developing a re-entry plan based on the guidelines above. The ABTS must review and approve the re-entry plan prior to implementation. The ABTS will also track the outcome of all reentry plans.
5. Outcomes assessment
  • The hospital should complete a Focused Professional Practice Evaluation (FPPE) in accordance with The Joint Commission guidelines within six months of beginning independent practice.

CME Credit for Successfully Completing the 10-year Milestone 

A Diplomate must submit proof to the AMA of the successful completion of certification or recertification with a photocopy of the Board certificates or other direct proof from the certifying Board. In addition, the Diplomate must complete an on-line application for CME credit on the AMA web site (www.ama-assn.org/go/directcredit ). Diplomates who successfully passed certification and re-certification examinations before September 1, 2010, can apply to the AMA for 25 credits. Diplomates who passed examination after September 1, 2010, can apply to the AMA for 60 credits. Diplomates may apply for CME credits for up to six years from the effective date on their certificate. Information about the credit and how to apply for the CME credit can be found at on the AMA's web site at:www.ama-assn.org/go/directcredit .

Special Exam Accommodations Policy

The purpose of documentation is to validate that the candidate is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Documentation also enables the ABTS to provide appropriate accommodations for such a disability. The purpose of accommodations is to provide equal access to the American Board of Thoracic Surgery testing program. No candidate shall be excused from the Maintenance of Certification exam or offered a modification that would compromise the examination's ability to test accurately the skills and knowledge it is designed to measure. Similarly, no auxiliary aid or service will be provided that will fundamentally alter either examination or will result in an undue burden to the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. To allow sufficient time for a thorough review of all documentation material, candidates requesting accommodations should contact the Board office, who will then send a questionnaire.  The candidate will need complete the questionnaire and submit it to the ABTS by the published application deadline. The ABTS strictly adheres to a policy of confidentiality and does not disclose names of candidates with disabilities or information concerning the application or accompanying documentation.