Clinical practice pathway for AOA addiction medicine certification now available

Eligible DOs can obtain the certification after spending 1,000 practice hours on addiction medicine over a two-year period.

To help increase the number of physicians who are certified addiction specialists—which the nation needs more of as it battles an opioid epidemic—AOA Certifying Board Services recently began offering a clinical pathway to AOA board certification in addiction medicine.

This certification is available to DOs who are AOA or ABMS board-certified in a primary specialty. To be eligible for the certification’s clinical pathway, they must have spent a minimum of 1,000 practice hours over a two-year period on addiction medicine. The two years of practice do not need to be continuous; however, they must have taken place in the five-year period prior to application.

At least half of the practice hours must be devoted to direct patient care. The other half can include activities such as published research, teaching activities within an accredited medical school or ACGME residency, and live or recorded live CME activities.

Urgent need

In 2018, over 67,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S., a significantly higher number than died in car accidents that year. Now, experts fear that the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the opioid epidemic, with some areas reporting dramatic increases in the number of opioid-related deaths.

The nation has a shortage of physicians who are certified addiction specialists, according to a 2017 White House report. In 2009, it was estimated that the nation needed at least 6,000 such specialists, the report noted. In 2017, there were only 4,400 certified addiction specialists in the U.S., and demand would have been even greater than in 2009 due to the worsening opioid epidemic.

To assist patients with substance use disorder in accessing high-quality health care, the AOA is committed to credentialing physicians who have specialized knowledge of addiction medicine, says AOA President Thomas Ely.

“Many communities across the country are reeling from the double blows of the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says. “Each has been devastating for countless families and stretched many public health departments to the breaking point.

“Increasing the pool of physicians who are certified in addiction medicine is necessary to provide greater access to high-quality treatment among patients with substance use disorders. Our DOs are eager to address substance use disorders using a whole-person approach to care.”

Opportunities for physicians

AOA board certification in addiction medicine will also carry meaningful benefits for physicians who obtain the subspecialty certification, says Julie Kmiec, DO, the president of the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM) and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Hospital of UPMC.

“Many employers want to hire physicians who have addiction medicine certification,” she says. “Also, some third-party payers require physicians who are credentialed with them to be board-certified in addiction medicine. So having this practice pathway available will make sure our physicians who have tons of experience will not miss out on opportunities like these.”

Dr. Kmiec is hopeful that the clinical pathway will result in more DOs certified in addiction medicine and more physicians treating substance use disorders, including opioid use disorder.

“So many DOs are in primary care,” she says. “If they can also get certified in Addiction Medicine, they can potentially meet patients where they are, meaning patients can get treatment for substance use disorders at the same location where they get their primary care services. That could really improve patient access to treatment for substance use disorders.”


The clinical pathway will be available for three years following the first administration of the initial exam.

During this period, AOA addiction medicine certification will also be available to DOs who have completed an AOA- or ACGME-accredited fellowship in Addiction Medicine, DOs with active American Board of Addiction Medicine certification, and DOs who completed an American College of Academic Addiction Medicine fellowship within the five years prior to applying.

Following the end of the three-year period, physicians will only be able to qualify for AOA subspecialty certification in addiction medicine by completing an ACGME-accredited addiction medicine fellowship.

The AOA Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists is currently reviewing eligibility criteria for MDs to obtain AOA subspecialty certification in addiction medicine.

The initial exam for AOA addiction medicine certification is scheduled for Dec. 7-13, 2020. More details are available here.

The AOAAM is also providing a review course for the AOA’s certification exam in addiction medicine on Oct. 3-4, 2020, in a virtual conference format. More details are available here.

“We believe the course will be helpful for both DOs obtaining initial certification in addiction medicine and those who are re-certifying,” Dr. Kmiec says. “The course will have some live lecture components as well as prerecorded lectures that people can access at their convenience. And recordings of the live components will be provided for on-demand viewing later as well.”

More information about AOA addiction medicine certification, eligibility and required documentation is available in this FAQ.

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