Learning Doesn't Stop at Certification

Road to Certification

Dr. Jessica Hart has been saving wall space for her American Board of Pediatrics certificate in her Raleigh, N.C., office since she finished her pediatric residency at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015.

This spring, she filled the space, hanging her General Pediatrics certificate alongside other cherished décor, including her medical degree, awards for dedication and artwork drawn by patients.

It hangs there as much for parents and caregivers as for herself, she says. “It sends a message that the person who’s taking care of their kid is a competent, committed individual.”

Dr. Hart is one of more than 3,000 general pediatricians who earned initial certification from the ABP in 2015. Another 1,000 pediatricians earned initial certification in a pediatric subspecialty last year.

To get a medical license, a person must complete medical school, then receive additional clinical training as required by their state. Finally, they have to pass a licensing exam. 

But doctors who want to become board certified pediatricians must go above and beyond those requirements. Throughout three years of accredited clinical training, they are assessed on core competencies – including how well they communicate with patients and how strong their patient care skills are. When they have mastered these competencies, then they are allowed to take a rigorous certification examination.

To maintain that certification throughout their careers, they study the latest medical findings, do projects to improve their practice, and take additional exams.

In a way, Estela Canseco and Josue Ruis have been through the certification process with Dr. Hart. Their two daughters, Ellie and Abigail, were Dr. Hart’s patients throughout her residency training and the family followed her when she started private practice.

“We’re so happy for her and we know she’s a good pediatrician and she knows her job,” says the girls’ mother, Estela Canseco.

Josue Ruis adds, “It’s the relationship. You feel, every time she sees the girls, she’s like our family. I don’t know if this will happen in the future, but it makes me wish that at least one of my daughters becomes a pediatrician like her.”

In the same way, her own pediatricians influenced Dr. Hart to choose medicine. She, too, cherished the tight-knit relationship she and her family shared with the doctors who cared for her and her siblings, especially her brother with congenital heart disease and another with epilepsy. 

“I think about them every day,” Dr. Hart says. “I’ve tried to emulate those people who have really made a difference in my life. I think a lot about the people who took care of me as a kid and what qualities they had and why my family loved them so much.”

She had obstacles to overcome, not the least of which was test anxiety throughout her academic career.

“Tests and certifications have always been a huge obstacle in my mind to getting to where I am today,” Dr. Hart says. “It’s taken a lot of passion and persistence.”

The other pediatric trainees and faculty she worked with – her “residency family” – were a source of support and encouragement, she says. Together, they prepared for the initial certification exam and, beyond that, for their careers as pediatricians.

 “I felt like studying for the test informed me in my job and my job informed me in becoming certified,” Dr. Hart says. “On that day when I got the letter indicating that I passed the certification exam, I felt deeply excited for this (residency) family and grateful.”

Moving on to MOC

Dr. Hart will keep learning throughout her career. To maintain certification, pediatricians continuously study the latest medical findings, do projects to improve their practice, and take additional exams.

“We are responsible for continuing to learn and to provide the best medicine,” Dr. Hart says. “It’s a really important commitment to learning over one’s career with Maintenance of Certification. Some people feel like it’s something they just have to do, but the value in it is continuing to be the best physician you can be throughout your career.”

The ABP’s Maintenance of Certification (MOC) process begins as soon as a pediatrician is certified. The same dedication and perseverance it took for Dr. Hart to become certified then shifts to remaining at the top of her game.

More than 69,000 pediatricians are engaged in MOC, voluntarily committing themselves to self-assessment, improvement, and education within their practice. It’s that dedication to excellence that has left a lasting impression on so many parents, including Ellie and Abigail’s mom and dad.

As Estela Conseco says, “She takes such good care of my babies.” 

Would you like to know if your child’s pediatrician is certified and continuing to pursue excellence through the Maintenance of Certification program?