Use of Board Certified
BOARD POLICY STATEMENT REGARDING THE USE OF THE TERM
In the healing arts professions, the term “Board Certified” has a well-defined meaning. In fact, such meaning is also well-understood in the practice of law, because lawyers often prefer to use board certified individuals as expert witnesses. This obviously is due to the fact that true board certification implies experience, training, and education over and above what others licensed to practice the same profession receive. One source reviewed by the Board's special counsel, which may be somewhat dated in terms of the number of areas of specialization, indicated that there are 19 branches of medicine recognized by the profession as suitable for specialization. For each such branch there is an American Board whose primary purpose is to establish minimum standards of graduate educational and training requirements for physicians representing themselves to the public as being specialists in that particular branch, with certification of such physicians occurring only after they successfully complete examinations conducted by their respective board. Although specialty boards in general, and medical specialty boards in particular, do not confer any legal qualifications, privileges, or licenses by their granting of board certification status, nor do they purport in any way to proscribe or limit the professional activities of any position, nevertheless the possession of such a certificate is regarded as of great value within the profession.
Within the medical specialties, board certification involves much more than the basic certification or license to practice medicine by the states’ various medical licensing bodies. It seems obvious that the purpose behind referring to oneself as “Board Certified” is to attempt to set oneself apart from others who practice that profession, or others who practice the same specialization within a profession. Even persons who do not understand the true meaning of the term “Board Certified” are likely to infer that term to mean that the practitioner is in some way more qualified than someone who does not possess this particular designation.
The Board considers the use of the phrase “Board Certified” or variations of such terminology by any North Carolina licensed optometrist in any communication, particularly in any media advertising or promoting the optometrist’s services, is in violation of North Carolina Law, the Rules and Regulations of the Board and Board Policy.
In North Carolina , there is no provision for optometrists to be “Board Certified” in the foregoing sense (cited above in the HISTORY). The only language upon which a licensee could rely to advertise that he or she is board certified is contained in North Carolina General Statutes, sections 90-118(e) and 90-118.10. The former statute refers to optometrists “certified by the Board as educationally qualified to prescribe and use pharmaceutical agents.” The latter statute refers to the Board’s issuing its annual certificate of renewal of license, and states that the certificate shall indicate whether the licensee “has been certified to prescribe and use pharmaceutical agents.”
Since 1977, each person awarded a license to practice optometry in the state of North Carolina , by virtue of the amending of G.S. 90-114, has been “certified to prescribe and use pharmaceutical agents.” However, only a handful (less than 1 percent) of all optometrists currently licensed in North Carolina are not “certified to prescribe and use pharmaceutical agents” by virtue of their pre-1977 licensure. This language, therefore, effectively denotes nothing other than licensure, and certainly denotes no additional education, training, or experience beyond what is required of all persons receiving a license to practice optometry in this state. Accordingly, “certification” conferred by the Optometry Board does not denote additional competency or expertise in the practice of optometry, particularly as such practice relates to the diagnosis, treatment and management of diseases and injuries of the eye and its adnexa.
The Board fails to see how any optometrist practicing in North Carolina could not understand the distinction between true board certification and the “certification” referred to in the aforementioned statutes governing the practice of optometry in this state. The claim by an optometrist that he or she is “board certified “ cannot be supported by reference to such statutes and rules and will not be supported by the Board. Such language has the tendency to mislead patients and potential patients within he meaning of (without limitation) G.S. 90-121(a)(6), (11), (15), (16), (17), or (22) and/or Board Rules (21 N.C.A.C.) 42E .0302(1), (2),(11), or (12). Therefore, by publicly posting its Policy in this regard, the Board hereby notifies all optometrists claiming to be “Board Certified” to cease and desist immediately from continuing to use such language, or any variant implying that they are “Board Certified”by this Board, in any advertisement or promotional materials and in any form of communication whatsoever. Failure by any optometrist to comply with this policy will result in the optometrist being called before the Board to show cause why discipline should not be imposed. In accordance with G.S. 90-121.2 discipline, when imposed, may depend upon:
1. The number of pieces of print distributed or the number of promotional e-mails that have been sent over the internet; and/or,
2. The number of printed advertisements and the circulation of the publication(s) in which they appear; and/or,
3. The period of time that a web site or ‘blog’ promoting the optometrist(s) or their practice(s) has been operational on the internet; and/or
4. The frequency of the radio advertisement and the size or the population of the radio market; and/or,
5. The frequency of the television advertisement and the size or the population of the television market; and/or,
6. The size of the yellow page advertisement, the number of months remaining until the current directory expires and the population served; and/or
7. If on a patient intake form, statement of patient rights, prescription form or other document internal to the optometrist’s practice, the number of patients or potential patients who have been exposed to such statement or communication.