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Board Certified or Fellowship Trained Fertility Specialist : What’s the Difference?


If you’re under 35 and have been trying to conceive for a year without success, or you’re 35 or older and have been trying for six months, it’s time to think seriously about getting fertility treatment. If you are 40 and have been trying for three months, or you or your partner already know you have a fertility problem, the time to act is now.

When you’re looking to get help with fertility problems, you will want to find a fertility clinic staffed by reproductive endocrinologists who specialize in reproductive medicine and treating infertility. You may see a lot of different credentials on the fertility specialists’ bios. What does it mean to be fellowship trained? What is board certification? Does it matter which your doctor has?

Fellowship Training
Becoming a specialist of any sort in the United States is a lengthy process which requires a great deal of training. Any doctor (MD or DO) begins with completing a bachelor’s degree, being admitted to an accredited medical school, and then completing medical school. Every budding MD or DO then trains as a medical resident in the specialty she or he wants to pursue. A graduate of an international medical school must pass the Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates process prior to entering residency training. Residency takes three to five years, depending on the specialty. Then the prospective doctor has to take and pass the medical boards, the USMLE, which is required to obtain a medical license in the U.S. A doctor cannot legally practice medicine without a license.

The next step in many specialties is fellowship training. Not all medical doctors do this, and not all specialties require fellowship training. Reproductive endocrinology and infertility (REI) is a sub-specialty of obstetrics and gynecology. After four years of training in OB/GYN, a three-year approved fellowship in REI is required, for a total of seven years. That’s how you know your physician has truly specialized in the field that can help you best.

Board Certification
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) sets the standards for certification. After successfully completing an REI fellowship, the doctor must pass first board exams for obstetrics and gynecology (oral and written) and be board certified in OB/GYN. Then the final step is board certification in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, requiring oral, written and thesis exams. Whew! Becoming a reproductive endocrinologist is a huge commitment of time, resources and dedication. Getting board certification in REI is lengthy and demanding.

So What’s the Difference?
Many fellowship-trained doctors who are not board certified are in the process of pursuing certification. Most practicing reproductive endocrinologists are board certified in OB/GYN. Many of those who are not board certified in REI are pursuing board certification in the subspecialty. So you may see a doctor who is fellowship-trained but not yet board certified in reproductive endocrinology. These tend to be younger doctors. Physicians are board-eligible for seven years after completing a fellowship. After that, they may no longer take the board exams because their training is no longer current with the curriculum on which the exams are based.

When the field of reproductive endocrinology was new, many of the specialists were board-certified in OB/GYN but not in REI because it was not yet available in the medical community. They were the trail-blazers. It is important to remember that the world’s first ‘test-tube’ baby is only 36 years old. As the fertility field became more established and the science became more sophisticated, so too has the educational process and requirements for becoming a specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Standards have changed in the last decade or so, and most fertility centers have at least one board-certified reproductive endocrinologist on staff. Many fertility centers will have fellowship-trained doctors as well.

How do you know which doctor is right for you? Board certification in reproductive endocrinology and infertility is the gold standard. Recent research suggests that board certification improves clinical outcomes and communication between patients and doctors. But a fellowship-trained doctor who is actively pursuing board certification while working as part of a team with a board certified physician can be a good fit as well. It’s also important to take into account the depth of experience and high success rates many of the older physicians who were among the trail-blazers bring to bear. Many of them have excellent reputations and take great pride in their success at helping people become parents.

Looking for a Fertility Specialist?
Are you exploring fertility treatment to start your family? Let WINFertility help. WINFertility’s Nurse Care Managers or professionally-trained Patient Specialists can help you find an excellent reproductive endocrinologist in your area and get discounted treatment packages and financing options.

WINFertility provides lower than market-rate Treatment and Medication Bundles which combine medical services for a single IVF treatment and medications at a reduced “pay-as-you-go” price. The bundle is tailored for your specific treatment plan, and you only pay for the treatment you need, unlike multi-cycle discount plans. For those patients who may need an additional IVF attempt to become pregnant, the 2nd Chance IVF Refund Program helps control costs and maximize your chance of success. Are you ready to take the next step? Visit or call 855-705-4483 (4IVF.)