Ophthalmologists: America’s First Board Certified Doctors

In the early 1900s, a group of leaders in American ophthalmology became concerned about the quality of training undertaken by physicians wishing to specialize in ophthalmology. Discussions stemming from this concern culminated in 1914 with the formation of a joint committee among the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, the American Ophthalmological Society, and the Section on Ophthalmology of the American Medical Association to consider ophthalmic education. The report of this committee in 1915, led to the establishment of the American Board for Ophthalmic Examinations on May 8, 1916. The Board was incorporated May 3, 1917. The name was changed from the American Board for Ophthalmic Examinations to the American Board of Ophthalmology in 1933. This was the first American Specialty Board to be established, with the American Board of Otolaryngology following in 1924 and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1930. The early history of the American Board of Ophthalmology has been described in History of the American Board of Ophthalmology, 1916-1991 (Shaffer, Robert N., 1991).


The First Examination

Over two cold December days in Memphis, Tennessee, 10 pioneering physicians assembled at the University of Tennessee Medical School to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and experience in ophthalmology—and set the precedent for excellence in American medicine. The written examination, held on day one, required candidates to answer a series of questions in embryology, anatomy, pathology, and diseases of the eye. On the second day, candidates participated in an oral clinical-based examination using actual patients from the school’s medical clinic. Final grades were then calculated based on a combination of written and oral examination scores, laboratory experience, and previously reviewed case reports. Seven candidates emerged on December 14 as America’s first board certified doctors. They were Drs. W. Likely Simpson, J.B. Blue, A.C. Lewis, Louis Levey, and J.S.B. Stanford, all of Memphis; W.H. Crisp of Denver; and Mace H. Bell of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Board also certified Drs. Edward Jackson of Denver, Robert S. Lamb of Washington, D.C., and J.L. Minor of Memphis based on their records. Three additional candidates did not pass and were invited to reappear for a future examination.


100 Years of Public Service

One hundred years and 30,000 certificates later, the ABO continues to issue the public’s most trusted credential for specialty knowledge, skills, and experience in ophthalmology. Board certification has left a lasting impact on the quality and standards for training in ophthalmology and in the 23 other medical specialties who have since followed ophthalmology’s lead. In 2016, the ABO celebrates all doctors who choose higher standards through board certification.