American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Definitions of Certifications

​These are the types of certification you can obtain from the AOA-approved specialty boards.

Primary Certification

Primary certification is conferred on diplomates who meet the requirements in a specified field of medical practice under the jurisdiction of a certifying board. Primary certification represents a distinct and well defined field of osteopathic medical practice. Certificates read, "Certified in (general field)."

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 a certifying examination in that field. The training required for subspecialty certification must incorporate a specific and identifiable body of knowledge within the broader pract​ice of the primary specialty. For example, a physician can hold general certification in Family Practice, with subspecialty certification in Geriatric Medicine.

When the identifiable body of knowledge for subspecialty certification overlaps more than one specialty or subspecialty area, a conjoint examination program may be developed by the corresponding certifying boards.

Subspecialty certification is conferred by a certifying board in a specific subspecialty area of the field to which that board certifies. It requires prior attainment of general certification. Certificates read, "Certified in (subspecialty field)."

There are certain subspecialty certifications that require additional training years and/or experience beyond the one year requirement for general subspecialty certification. These subspecialty certifications are considered specialized enough to not require maintenance of the primary board certification after a physician has become subspecialt​y certified. Such subspecialty certifications indicate the possession of knowledge, skill, training and successful examination in a subspecialty field over and above that required for primary certification.

These subspecialty certifications designate additional abilities in limited areas of the primary specialty field represented by that board. For example, Cardiology is a limited area within the field of Internal Medicine for which physicians may earn a subspecialty certification that does not require them to maintain their primary certification in Internal Medicine, after they have become subspecialty certified in Cardiology. ​Please contact your specialty certifying board to determine if your specialty requires maintenance of primary certification or not.

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