Upon their graduation from medical school, physicians can join professional healthcare organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) that work on behalf of doctors to support the profession and practice of medicine. Many professional healthcare organizations are comprised of providers like doctors who, based on their voluntary association, take special interest in how their profession is regulated. These organizations write policies, offer resources, lobby the government, and issue opinions in the following areas regarding how their medical colleagues are supported and governed within the medical field.
Ethics and Codes of Conduct
Many of the questions physicians face during the course of professional duties involve ethical, as well as clinical, decisions. Professional medical organizations and societies (like the AMA) set codes of ethics to promote the honesty, integrity, dignity, honor, and discipline of physicians and other clinical professionals.
Strong ethical codes created by professional organizations like the AMA help resolve these dilemmas by preparing clinicians and professionals for ethically ambiguous situations. Doctors who confront complex ethical situations rely on codes of conduct to provide clarity and ethical guidance. Ethical codes help physicians deliver treatment more respectfully, equitably, and effectively. Ethical codes and codes of conduct engender trust and public confidence in the medical profession.
Professional Standards and Responsibility
Professional medical organizations serve to codify and promote professional standards that inform the practice of modern medicine. These standards inform doctors on how to approach patient care in a variety of clinical and non-clinical situations, including patient relationships.
While not enforceable by law, these guidelines act as professional standards generally accepted within the medical field. Professional organizations provide access to information, lobby state and federal governments, set requirements for membership, and award credentials based on a practitioner’s verifiable commitment to objectives set by leadership and agreed upon by members.
The standards defined and set by professional medical organizations include criteria for duty of care, personal professional responsibility, the upholding of patient dignity, accessibility of care, and the rigorous basis with which medical protocols should be scientifically evaluated.
Licensure and Credentialing
To practice, physicians and other medical professionals earn and maintain various licenses and credentials, several of which are administered by professional medical organizations like the AMA. Some credentials are earned through state and national boards and maintained, in part, by the completion of CME activities.
Secure and Efficient Credential Transfer
In addition to providing benefits like resources and support, professional organizations give their members access to a credentialing system that allows third parties to easily verify and transfer physician credentials. The AMA, for instance, builds physicians’ member profiles that include (in some cases automatic) verification of the following credentials:
- Medical school graduation
- Graduate medical education
- ABMS specialty board certification (including MOC)
- DEA registration
- National Provider Identifier Number
- ECFMG applicant number (for graduates of foreign medical schools)
Administering the United States Medical Licensing Exam®
In addition to state licensure, recent medical school graduates must pass a national standardized exam that assesses a doctor’s ability to manage disease and issue a high standard of medical care. This examination process is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners, a non-profit organization that collaborates with medical schools, healthcare facilities, and public entities to establish a high standard of patient care through initial licensing processes for medical residents.
Specialty Board Credentialing
Those who practice in a medical specialty like anesthesiology are subject to a board specialty certification process based on the criteria set by their respective field’s specialty organization. The parent board, the ABMS, oversees and informs the credentialing process conducted by the other 24 specialty boards. Board certification indicates the highest level of expertise in a given specialty. Maintenance of Certification (MOC) points are earned through a series of learning formats including hands-on, continuing education, and exam-based activities.
Medical Training and Continuing Medical Education
Professional healthcare organizations are playing an increasingly important role in continuing medical education. Perhaps most notably working alongside the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to establish the AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™, earned when a physician participates in an accredited CME activity. The current iteration of this credentialing reflects the recent alignment process between the ACCME and the AMA. All but a handful of state medical boards require CME to maintain a practitioner’s license to practice in their state.
Non-physicians, Professional Associations, and Medical Credentialing
This process of standardized and streamlined licensure criteria by professional healthcare organizations has the added benefit of unifying credentialing for non-physicians. Credit equivalency and certification programs as indicated by their professional association, such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, provide access to more resources. In many cases, non-physician practitioners are able to earn AMA PRA Category 1 Credit used by some professional medical organizations for membership. Medical professionals can also earn Certificates of Attendance that can be applied to a range of continuing education requirements specific to their medical domain.