Board Certification and the Profession of Optometry

Board certification in optometry has been a hot topic on and off since the beginning of its’ inception back in 2009.  This is definitely news to be well aware and informed of, as it could become a permanent fixture in the future of the profession.  Board certification in optometry has had a somewhat controversial past and is still quite polarizing today.  I want to present to you the facts and an objective look at this issue.  Please keep in mind that there are many more specifics that I could go into, but for now I’ll try to keep it brief by giving you the basics. I’ll present to you a short history of how and why the idea of board certification was born and developed, before and after the vote that brought about board certification, its’ current standing within the profession and the role that it could play in the near future.

History of Board Certification, before the vote:

In 2007, a group called the Joint Board Certification Project Team (JBCPT) began holding meetings to develop and propose the idea of board certification.  It was made up of representatives from the AOA, American Academy of Optometry (AAO), National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO), Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry (ARBO) and the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA).

Board certification was defined by the JBCPT as, “A voluntary process that establishes standards that denotes that a doctor of optometry has exceeded the requirement(s) necessary for licensure. It provides the assurance that a doctor of optometry maintains the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience needed to deliver continuing quality patient care in optometry.”

The idea of board certification in optometry was brought about due to concerns regarding healthcare reform.  Under some present health plans, and possibly more in the future, policy makers may place more value on improved quality of care.  The process of board certification and ‘maintenance of certification’ or MOC, which exists in many other healthcare professions, is viewed as a way to provide this higher quality of care and continued competence.  Would optometrists be excluded from future health care plans or programs because the profession didn’t have a process in place other than solely a continuing education requirement?

Before this vote occurred in June of 2009, Optometric Management published an article presenting the pros and cons of board certification. In the article’s support of board certification, it is argued that a more “value-driven healthcare” is emerging in which being board certified is extremely important in maintaining the viability of optometrists within the healthcare community.  An opposing view held that the JBCPT was jumping to conclusions, and that this was unnecessary action.  Here’s the link if you would like to read more: Others that were not in favor of board certification felt that, as general practitioners, optometrists are already fully qualified and able to provide excellent health care after going through the rigors of optometry school and passing the national board exams.  Additionally, board certification would be an unnecessary time and expense and, more importantly, wouldn’t show that a ‘board certified optometrist’ is able to provide higher quality care than one who isn’t.

Response after the vote, Board Certification in the Present and Future:

In June of 2009, during an annual meeting of the AOA in Washington, D.C., the proposed model for a board certification process was voted on and accepted by the AOA House of Delegates.  Response came immediately from both sides.  While some agreed that this progressive action was yet another important step in the advancement of the optometry profession, others were upset and felt that this vote was not at all representative of local AOA societies and practicing optometrists in general, but rather only academics and officers from the JBCPT.  After this vote, the American Optometric Society (AOS) was formed.  The AOS is against the idea of board certification, deeming it unnecessary for reasons cited in the previous paragraph, among others which you can read more about at their website:

Board certification is voluntary, but due to current and future changes in health care reform, board certification could become necessary if an optometrist wants to be included in certain health care plans.  Presently, the debate continues.  The American Board of Optometry (ABO) was formed in 2009 to oversee the board certification process.  It originated from organizations that made up the JBCPT and consists of members from the AOA, AAO, ASCO and AOSA.  Their board certification process includes an earned points system and exam.  For more information you can visit their website at:

In response, the American Board of Clinical Optometry (ABCO) was formed in 2010, which is supported by the AOS and gives another option through a Maintenance of Certification program.  The AOS disagrees with the necessity of board certification and feels that being board certified under the ABO does not demonstrate that an optometrist is going above and beyond to provide better care to patients.  This is why the ABCO is offering a Maintenance of Certification program that entails graduation from optometry school, passing the national board exams and licensure.  For more information you can find the ABCO website at:

So, just to reiterate and clarify:

  • The ABO was formed by the AOA, AAO, ASCO and AOSA to oversee the original, voted in board certification process.
  • The ABCO was formed in response to the creation of the ABO and is supported by the AOS but is a separate entity of the AOS.  They disagree with the notion of board certification in optometry yet they have decided to offer their own Maintenance of Certification program to optometry school graduates who have passed the national board exams.

Currently, there is a lawsuit filed by the AOS against the ABO.  The ABO has been ordered to stop making statements that suggest their board certification signifies attaining a higher competency than that earned from normal licensure.  The AOS also claims that the ABO’s use of the term “board certification” is misleading and confusing to the public, who may associate this with the board certification required in other medical fields, which is different.  The case is now underway and you can follow any recent developments from both sides, at the AOS website and at the AOA blog.

All things considered…

In the future, will Medicare and other health care plans require that the provider be board certified?  Is it possible that optometrists will be excluded under future health care plans if they aren’t board certified?  Will opposition like the AOS continue to grow, or will board certification become a mainstay within the optometry profession?  As I mentioned before, there are many more details that go into this topic, which is becoming increasingly divisive to the optometry profession.  What do you think about board certification and everything surrounding this issue?  If you have any questions or comments, we would love to hear them!

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