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Medical Board Exam: How to Prepare for IM Board Certification
Internal medicine board certification is a voluntary process intended to demonstrate expertise in a specific medical specialty.
Although board certification is not required for medical licensure and the ability to practice medicine, it is an important credential frequently required by healthcare organizations and insurance plans as a condition for employment or participation. Learn more
What are the requirements?
The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) requires that five specific criteria be met in order to become certified:
1. Complete the requisite predoctoral medical education. Details
2. Meet the graduate medical education training requirements. Details
3. Demonstrate clinical competence in the care of patients. Details
4. Meet the procedural and licensure requirements. Details
5. Pass the ABIM Internal Medicine Certification Examination. Details
Read the full internal medicine board certification process and what it means to be "board eligible." Learn more
What is the certification exam?
Preparing for the medical board exam
The vast amount of medical knowledge in internal medicine is intimidating, and the need to prepare for a comprehensive medical knowledge examination while in the process of very busy clinical training is further anxiety-provoking. The following resources will help you prepare for taking the internal medicine board certification exam.
Take a board review course
Prepare to pass the ABIM board exam in internal medicine with an ACP IMBR Course. Our IMBR courses provide:
- A comprehensive review of internal medicine that is guided by the blueprint of the ABIM Board exam
- Interactive case-based studies for an engaging learning experience
- Tips on test-taking strategies to strengthen your confidence
- Instruction by a team of expert clinician-educators
- ACP Digital Flashcards
- Electronic Syllabus available for download
- Earn CME Credits and MOC Points
- Guaranteed to prepare you for the ABIM board exam
Internal Medicine Board Certification Requirement #1: Complete the requisite predoctoral medical education
Students in the United States and Canada must have graduated from a school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), the Committee for Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools, or the American Osteopathic Association. Graduates of international medical schools must have either certification from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) or comparable credentials from the Medical Council of Canada.
Internal Medicine Board Certification Requirement #2: Meet the graduate medical education training requirements
A total of 36 calendar months of training is required and must be completed in a U.S. or Canadian graduate medical education program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, or the Professional Corporation of Physicians of Quebec.
Internal Medicine Board Certification Requirement #3: Demonstrate clinical competence in the care of patients
The ABIM requires that candidates for certification in internal medicine demonstrate adequate performance in the six core competencies defined by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS)/ACGME for all physicians: patient care and procedural skills, medical knowledge, practice-based learning and improvement, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, and systems-based practice.
Residency program directors are required to complete clinical competence evaluations each year for internal medicine residents, and to be eligible for board certification, residents must achieve satisfactory ratings in each of the six competency areas during the final year of training. Additionally, the program director must attest that the trainee is competent to practice in an unsupervised manner at the end of training. You can learn more about the required evaluation process.
Internal Medicine Board Certification Requirement #4: Meet the procedural and licensure requirements
The ABIM requires demonstration of competency and safe performance of a limited number of medical procedures to be eligible for initial certification. You can learn more about the procedural requirements. Candidates for board certification must also possess a permanent, valid, unrestricted, and unchallenged medical license in the United States or Canada.
Internal Medicine Board Certification Requirement #5: Pass the ABIM Internal Medicine Certification Examination
The examination is a secure examination administered in a dedicated testing center. It consists of a maximum of 240 questions and takes approximately 10 hours to complete (including breaks). Learn more about the certification examination.
When should I take the internal medicine board certification exam?
This is a highly personalized decision. Most residents will take the initial certification examination at the first possible opportunity following completion of training. This is logical since your knowledge of the overall field of internal medicine should be high immediately following residency, particularly if you have studied regularly and possibly had additional board review as part of your training. Those entering a subspecialty fellowship often take the exam at this point in order to allow more focused concentration on subspecialty content without needing to go back and review the remainder of general medicine.
However, others choose to wait for several reasons, including gaining additional time to study or to obtain some degree of clinical experience before taking the exam. This may be an option particularly for those with a “gap” between the end of residency and the start of a fellowship in which they may be working for a period of time in practice prior to the start of additional training.
Deciding to delay the certification exam is generally a decision based on the balance between feeling adequately prepared for the exam and not having too much time elapse between the beginning of board eligibility and the potential loss of general medical knowledge. Consultation with an experienced medical educator such as your program director may be helpful in making the best timing decision for your circumstances.
What happens if I fail the medical board exam?
If you fail the examination, you can ask to have your examination rescored. This is a relatively expensive process and one that rarely yields any significant change in your exam score given that the ABIM is quite meticulous in its scoring practices. It should therefore be requested only under unusual circumstances if you believe that an error might have reasonably been made.
As long as you continue to meet all of the applicable licensure, professional standing, and procedural requirements, you may re-take the examination up to a total of 3 consecutive attempts. However, those who fail 1 or 2 consecutive initial certification exams in the same discipline and do not register for the exam in the third consecutive year will be able to register for the exam the next time it is offered, and the three consecutive attempt cycle will begin again.
If you fail the exam, it is important to attempt to identify the likely reason you had difficulty. This will help guide preparation for a retake examination. Discussion with an experienced medical educator, such as your residency program director, may be helpful an analyzing the cause and developing a remediation approach.
Although there is considerable expense associated with retaking the examination following a failure, it is important and reassuring to know that the eventual pass rate for the initial certification examination is greater than 95%.