Certification of health professionals has two purposes. First, a state may protect a particular professional title, such as social worker or psychologist, by requiring that a person have a certain type and level of education in order to use it. These certification laws do not, however, regulate practice of the profession. Second, certification may recognize that an individual has successfully completed the national exam for a particular specialty and, in so doing, has demonstrated competence in that specialty. For example, certification by the American Board of Pediatrics suggests that a physician has the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to practice pediatrics in congruence with the national standard.5 The Academy of Certified Social Workers certification indicates an individual’s readiness for independent, unsupervised social work practice, including supervision of junior-level practitioners.

A review of current specialty certifications as of December 2000 suggests that several specialties require some training in the area of family violence. This requirement is usually closely linked to the target patient population for the specialty (e.g., pediatrics and child maltreatment). In such instances, a small number of questions on family violence appear on the certifying exam. Only a few specialties require training in all areas of family violence. Emergency medicine, for example, addresses all areas of family violence in section 18 on traumatic disorders (11 percent of the exam questions). The nurse midwife certification exam has specific questions on domestic violence and sexual assault, and the pediatric nurse practitioner exam contains questions on child abuse. However, specific content for exam questions can change from year to year and is dependent on the makeup of the committees assigned by the practice organizations.


The development and impact of health professional education on family violence may be affected by professional or personal concerns, beliefs, or experiences. These may explain a lack of clinician initiative, one of the most common reasons cited for failing to detect abused women (Ferris and Tudiver, 1992). The following discussion is intended to demonstrate the extent to which individual factors can affect training about family violence, but it may apply differently to the health professions considered in this report.


Recent petitions to the American Board of Pediatrics to establish a subboard on child abuse and neglect (to be called Child Abuse and Forensic Pediatrics) were deferred to allow time to document the scientific base of the field and to determine whether other medical organizations would have objections to the development of child abuse and neglect as a formal subspecialty.

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