The American Board of Laser Surgery (ABLS)

The American Board of Laser Surgery (ABLS)

The American Board of Laser Surgery

The ABLS is different than most medical specialty boards. Lasers are used in many medical and surgical specialties, so the Board is not specialty specific. Some claim that no other board is founded on a device (such as the laser). That is not so, because the American Board of Radiology and the American Board of Nuclear Medicine are both founded on devices: the CT scanner and the gamma camera and its tomographic variants. The ABLS is the only medical specialty board in the world that provides certifications in laser surgery and medicine.

There are many kinds of lasers and light devices used in medicine today. Lasers are capable of cutting, coagulating, ablating, and welding living tissue by one or more of these distinct biophysical processes: photothermolysis, photochemolysis, photopyrolysis, and/or photoplasmolysis. The impact of these processes on living tissue is determined by a variety of specific attributes of lasers, and their use, including, wavelength, energy output, absorption of wavelengths by various tissue characteristics (chromophores), power density, delivery system, spot size, pulse frequency, and how the medical practitioner uses the laser. The latter is the skill in applying the beam, even properly set, to the treatment area relative to distance from the tissue, time over the treatment area, use of overlapping sweeps, and other factors.

In short, lasers and their clinical application involve complex biophysical processes, settings and skills, and are completely different than scalpels, saws, drills, and electrosurgery. Traditional tools basically result in what you see is what you get. In addition to the clinical application of lasers and light in medical procedures, there are a wide variety of safety aspects and protocols clinicians need to thoroughly understand and put into practice.

As a result, there is a critical need for the ABLS. Since 1984, the ABLS has certified hundreds of practitioners worldwide in many medical specialties including otolaryngology, gynecology, osteopathic medicine, neurology, ophthalmology, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and many disciplines of cosmetic surgery and dermatologic procedures.

The ABLS is a non-profit organization registered under 501(C)6 of the US tax code.

Edward M. Zimmerman, M.D., President

History and Mission of the Board

The American Board of Laser Surgery was founded in 1984 by physicians, physicists and other medical practitioners from various fields who were experienced in the fundamental science and clinical applications of lasers. They shared a concern for the safe and efficacious use of lasers in medicine and surgery. They believed that the increasing complexity and utilization of lasers in treating patients had created a need for the establishment of key standards of knowledge, competence, and experience for those who used lasers in medicine.

Many individual physicians, hospital administrators, chairmen of credentialing committees, and other concerned persons expressed a desire for an organization that would fulfill these needs. In doing so, they recognized that lasers are sophisticated instruments requiring special knowledge and experience for safe and effective use in surgery and other medical procedures.

From the very beginning of the era of lasers in clinical use, iatrogenic, laser-related injuries and deaths were occurring among patients. This was the incentive for the founding of the American Board of Laser Surgery. Today, deaths are rare, but burns, complications and sub-optimal outcomes are still all too common.

The Mission of the ABLS is to educate and credential as many qualified laser and light practitioners as possible to ensure the efficacious and safe outcomes for patients. The specific objectives are to:

  1. Establish levels of knowledge and clinical experience, for those medical practitioners across medical specialties who utilize lasers and other light-based devices, which demonstrate a competent understanding of lasers physics, bio-physics and clinical safety.
  2. Provide study materials and certifying examinations in the physics, bio-physics and clinical use and safety of lasers and other light-based technologies – for qualified candidates seeking certification through demonstrating their knowledge in the use of lasers and light, based on competent understanding as defined by the Board; and to award certification based upon successful completion of the Board’s study programs and written and oral examinations.
  3. Educate as many qualified candidates as possible whom the Board judges, based on their credentials, can benefit from the certification program to become more knowledgeable in the use of lasers and light-based devices, and thereby increase the chances of their efficacious and safe use of these devices.
  4. Provide, as may be beneficial in the Board’s judgment, current information relevant to the efficacious and safe applications of lasers and other light-based technologies, to candidates for certification, Diplomates of the Board, medical institutions, governing authorities, and the general medical community.


  1. The Board’s traditional certification in Laser Surgery and Medicine:for all specialties, other than cosmetic laser procedures or laser dentistry, and which has been offered since 1985. Please visit our Certifications page for details.
  2. The Board’s certification in Cosmetic Laser and Light Procedures: This covers the fundamental laser science, biophysics, light-tissue interaction, and laser safety of the traditional certification AND also includes a substantial body of materials related to cosmetic laser and light procedures. The Board offers this recognizing the rapid growth in cosmetic laser ans light procedures and the needs of our candidates. Major areas of cosmetic procedures include ablative skin resurfacing, vascular lesions, leg veins, pigmented lesions and tattoos, scars, hair removal, non-ablative resurfacing and skin rejuvenation, photodynamic therapy (PDT), non-surgical skin tightening, and the science of IPL and LED procedures. The Board also accepts qualified, medically supervised non-physician practitioners for select, less-ablative procedures. Please visit our Cosmetics pagefor details.
  3. The Certificate of Added Qualification in Cosmetic Laser Procedures:The Board is pleased to offer a Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) for ABLS Diplomates practicing Cosmetic Laser and Light Procedures, and who meet several additional criteria. This CAQ provides Diplomates a credential that documents further experience and training, and gains additional recognition from the Board, as well as patients and colleagues. Please visit our CAQ pagefor details.
  4. NEW Certification in Laser Dentistry:This is now available for DMDs and DDSs. Please visit our Dentistry page for details.

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