Career Path

A Step-by-Step Guide to Medical License Renewal

Learn everything you need to know about recertification, from CME requirements to cross-state licensing – and how to streamline the process.

The medical recertification process can feel like a daunting obligation that’s easy to put off until later, but the process matters — and not just for compliance reasons. Nearly 98% of patients expect their doctors to stay up to date with the latest medical advances, according to the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

Medical board recertification shows your commitment to high-quality care through continuous learning and practice. Plus, it can give you a competitive advantage, more job opportunities, higher pay and job security throughout your career.

Whether it’s your first time or you need a refresher, at Provider Solutions & Development (PS&D), we know the specialty medical board recertification and state medical license renewal processes can be challenging and time consuming. PS&D is a healthcare recruiting organization that works with providers like you every day to share the resources, expert insights and job search support you need at every stage of your career.

Let’s break down the general steps and important details you need to help make the recertification and renewal processes easier in this simple guide. Note that depending on the state you practice in, you’ll need to reference its relevant boards and organizations to get the details you need for your specific situation and location.

(Contact PS&D today for guidance to find the right position to match your goals).

5-Step Guide to the Specialty Medical Board Recertification Process

Doctors of medicine (MDs) earn board certification from the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) earn board certification from the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

Each organization licenses, recertifies and regulates internists and subspecialists who practice across the United States.

The ABMS and AOA offer voluntary certification to affirm your competence in the most modern practices in your medical field and your commitment to ongoing learning in your specialty.

Once you get a certification from one or more of the 24 ABMS member boards or one or more of the 18 AOA member boards, you must maintain your certificate to continue to practice legally.

Many hospitals, clinics and other employers require board certification, the highest level of accreditation, as a condition of employment.

Step 1: Understand Maintenance of Certification (MOC)

Maintaining your certification is crucial to stay up-to-speed with the medical knowledge you use to treat your patients and make the best critical care decisions every day.

You have to pass an MOC assessment every 10 years, according to the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). ABIM’s MOC program standardizes this process across many medical specialties, from disaster medicine to integrative medicine and more.

ABMS board certification evaluates six core competencies:

1. Practice-based learning and improvement.
Ability to assess and explore patient care practices, estimate scientific evidence and improve practice.

2. Patient care and procedural skills.
Offer compassionate, appropriate and effective care for the treatment of health problems and to promote health.

3. Systems-based practice.
Practice awareness and responsibility of systems of healthcare. Utilize system resources to offer the best care.

4. Medical knowledge.
Show mastery of established and evolving sciences and their application in patient care.

5. Interpersonal and communication skills.
Ability to conduct effective information exchange with patients, families and associates.

6. Professionalism.
Carry out responsibilities, adhere to ethical principles and show sensitivity to a diversity of patients.

Learn more about licensing and board certification.

Step 2: Meet Professionalism Standards

To meet professionalism standards, you need to have a state medical license, continuously renew it and adhere to the professional and ethical standards set by the board(s) that certified you.

Physicians with licensure restrictions, like a suspension, may be unable to maintain their certification.

Step 3: Commit to Lifelong Learning

Doctors have to demonstrate their dedication to staying current on medical advancements and learning throughout their careers. You can do this by completing the required amount of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits in your certification area during each CME cycle.

Your certification board(s) can let you know the number of CME credits you need and when you need them.

Step 4: Pass Your Medical Board Recertification Exams

Each medical board offers an exam to assess and measure your specialty medical knowledge and understanding of core medical care competencies. You’ll want to determine the assessment(s) you must take based on your specialty and board.

Some specialty boards enforce more than one exam or another form of assessment to gain recertification. Most boards offer various ways to take medical exams, including in-person and virtual, depending on the type of assessment. Contact your certification board to find the best option for your needs. Learn more about how to become and stay board certified.

Step 5: Demonstrate Improvement

The goal of the MOC is the continuous improvement of your medical knowledge. This final step must show the improvements you make during each cycle. Depending on your career path, there are different options:

  • Submit evidence of participation in quality improvement activities. This includes systematic, formal approaches to analyze practice performance and improved performance.

  • Participate in the ABMS Portfolio Program (if you’re an MD). This streamlines this process, and you can gain credit for what you’ve already started and implemented.

  • Complete a Practice Performance Assessment and Improvement (PPA) module (if you’re a DO). In addition to a “quality-driven or clinically focused encounter that assesses your clinical acumen,” according to the AOA.

MDs can refer to the American Board of Medical Specialties to learn more. DOs can refer to the AOA Board Certification.

Associated Costs

Costs vary depending on how many certifications you need to maintain, how many CME credits you must complete and the type of exam(s) you must take.

ABIM certifies nearly one out of every four physicians in the United States. A physician who maintains their certification with ABIM pays:

  • $220 annually for the first certificate.
  • $120 annually for additional certificates.

Learn more about the MOC fee structure and how the process works.

3-Step Guide to the State Medical License Renewal Process

Every practicing physician needs an active medical license granted by a U.S. state or jurisdiction. Whether you’re renewing for the first time or relocating for a new job, here’s a general breakdown of what you need to know to successfully renew a state medical license.

If you work in telehealth, the cross-state licensing process allows you to obtain licenses from multiple states through the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC). Note that you cannot renew any licenses through the Compact which were not obtained through the Compact.

Step 1: Check When Your License Expires

Depending on where you practice, plan to renew a medical certification every one to three years. It’s a great idea to set expiration date reminders on your phone, so your licenses don’t lapse and you avoid late fees.

Here are a few key facts about license expiration to keep in mind:

  • Different states may have different expiration dates — it’s often your birthdate or an otherwise designated day or month.

  • Licenses expire at midnight on the specified day, and there’s no grace period.

  • Renew your license within 30 days after it expires to prevent late fees and delinquency fees.

  • Keep copies of completed materials to reuse on multiple applications to save time.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), although each state’s licensing processes may differ, the applications and requested information are usually similar.

Step 2: Continue Your Medical Education

Each state requires a certain number of hours of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits to renew a medical license, ranging from 20 to 150 hours per renewal term.

Review your employment contract within your hospital or clinic and check your requirements to see if you need to complete more CME credits than are state mandated.

Are you participating in a maintenance of certification program? Many states will accept proof of participation to fulfill your CME requirements.

Your state may also require you to complete specific CME trainings. These are relevant to all practicing physicians in specific topics like child abuse, opioid prescriptions and Alzheimer’s detection and diagnosis.

States randomly select licensed providers to audit their CME compliance, especially for state-mandated specific CME training. If you’re selected, you’ll get an email and physical mail explaining how to submit documentation, the deadlines and information about fines for submitting late.

Step 3: Pay Your State Medical License Fees

Each state has different fees, which can vary depending on your specialty. Check your state medical board website for details on the most current renewal fees.

For example, for an active MD and DO, it costs $580 to renew a license in Oregon every two years and $956 to renew a license in Washington.

Note that you can negotiate with your employer to have them pay your licensing fees as part of your terms of employment.

Consequences of Letting Your State Medical License Expire

If you fail to renew your state medical license on time, you’ll no longer be able to legally practice until you renew it. If you continue to practice without a valid license, you’re putting your reputation at risk, and you could face disciplinary action and even civil or criminal charges.

Fines can vary by state but can be up to 60% of the renewal fee — on top of the original renewal fee. Suppose you don’t renew your license within a certain time (which can vary by state). In that case, your license will change to delinquent status, and you’ll need to complete the initial application process again if you want to hold a medical license in the future.

Learn more about the general process of navigating state medical licensure.

PS&D Can Simplify Your Job Search

You now have the general knowledge you need to prepare for the specialty medical board recertification and state medical license renewal process.

PS&D is always here with helpful resources and personalized guidance to support you throughout your career, including your job search. Our team of 40 recruiters doesn’t work on commission. Instead, they focus on providing personalized advice and support to help find the right clinic and location with the benefits and culture to match your needs.

We partner with over 35 healthcare organizations nationwide to make it easier to access different opportunities for different lifestyles. Reach out today for job search support so we can learn more about you and your goals.

Finishing residency? Visit our GME Lounge to get the resources you need to launch your career with confidence. If you’re going through a job transition and need help with the resignation process, check out our physician transition checklist.