Sleep Specialist Certification

Competency-Based Classification for Sleep Medicine

  1. Competency-Based Classification

There exists a variety of approaches for classifying Individuals as sleep specialists. Some classifications provide hierarchical classification based on professional group while others cede most of the certification to the local licensing authorities. In general, certification can be based on credentials, professional discipline, licensing, experience, training, testing, or a combination of these elements. It is WASMs Standard of Practice Committee position that certification should be based on competency vis-à-vis expertise. This is especially true because tremendous variation exists in both resources and expertise across geo-political regions.

With sleep disorders becoming increasingly recognized by the medical community, public health officials, and the general population, demand for sleep care services are outpacing available expertise in many localities. While local licensing and credentialing policies cannot be ignored, a step-wise, competency-based approach is offered here for guidance. It should be emphasized that the classification here concerns the requirements for designation as a sleep specialist and does not provide any permission to practice clinically. All medical and clinical licensing requirements remain with local practice authority. Nonetheless, this classification can be used as a guideline for the knowledge and expertise needed to understand and treat sleep disorders.

To meet patient health care needs, the best arrangement is for individuals certified as sleep specialists to have extensive knowledge about sleep and sleep disorders. The WASM curriculum can be used for guidance concerning subject-area content and level of detail. In general content areas include sleep physiology, epidemiology, clinical diagnosis, laboratory assessment, treatment, and experience performing follow-up for longer-term clinical sleep care. Professional level clinical expertise is needed in both behavioral and pharmacological therapeutics.

The schema here defines four sleep specialist classification levels and ranks them as satisfactory for limited practice, good for limited practice, good for full practice, and superior for full practice (see table 1). In a simplified form, this system can be viewed as a hierarchy of adequate, good, better, and best.

  1. Description of Sleep Specialist Classifications
  2. Requirements to Attain “Superior” Rating for Full Sleep Practice

Realizing that sleep medicine did not suddenly burst into existence but rather evolved with the support of pioneering individuals focused on sleep science, epidemiology, diagnostics, treatment, clinical outcomes, and education. Moreover, many clinicians were treating sleep disorders decades before the nosological entities were systematically defined or recognized by the medical community or third-party payers. Thus, true sleep specialists have existed long before this classification of their expertise was even conceived. These experts served as teacher-mentors in some of the earliest and current sleep medicine training programs. For this reason, there are two sets of criteria for the top level of sleep specialists.

Criteria I- Founders of the Field

This group subsumes the founders of the field and recognizes their expertise. To qualify, individuals must have a decade or more involvement in sleep research, clinical practice, and sleep medicine education. Documentation includes a track record of publication, teaching, and involvement in the broader sleep community. In localities that had pre-existing certification examinations, these individuals should be board certified as sleep specialists.

Criteria II- Sleep Medicine Fellowship Trained

This group includes those individuals that graduated from a 1-year (or longer) accredited sleep medicine fellowship training program and have passed their examination to be board certified in sleep medicine.

  1. Requirement to Attain a “Good” Classification for a Full Sleep Practice

This classification includes clinicians competent in a specialty area that includes sleep disorders as a subspecialty. Their professional training included diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. To further their expertise in sleep medicine, these clinicians either completed a subspecialty course or elective in sleep medicine and acquired experience recognizing and treating sleep disorders. Their experience should include seeing individuals with a wide spectrum of sleep disorders under the supervision of a sleep specialist. Alternatively, for individuals in an active clinical sleep practice that predates the existence of formal fellowship or elective training programs, the practitioner should have (for one year, or more) a documented minimum of one week for each two months (i.e., and average of 2.5 days per month) training with a sleep specialist. This mentorship and supervision should include didactic training, case review, and polysomnographic reading.

  1. Requirement to Attain “Good” Classification for a Limited Sleep Practice

To qualify for this classification, the individual should have documented competencies in a specialty area that includes sleep disorders as a subspecialty (for example, a   neurologist diagnosing, treating, and following patients with narcolepsy). They should have, as part of their training, some specific focus concerning the relevant sleep disorders and experience treating sleep disorders typically encountered in their specialty practice (for example, a psychologist performing cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia). To further and widen their education, these specialists should have documented attendance at accredited professional-level educational programs covering the spectrum of sleep disorders (for example, officially sanctioned continuing medical or clinical educational courses offered at national meetings or reputable private schools of sleep medicine). Additionally, the individuals should have a minimum of a year’s experience in a clinical sleep practice with consultation available from a sleep specialist.

  1. Minimum Satisfactory Requirement for a Limited Sleep Practice

The minimum requirement for recognition as a sleep specialist for a limited practice is recognition of competent in a specialty area that includes sleep disorders as a subspecialty (for example, pulmonologist with experience diagnosing and treating sleep apnea). This entry-level sleep specialist should have some professional training, coursework, and a minimum of 6-months experience treating sleep disorders typically encountered in specialty practice. Such individuals are strongly encouraged to acquire additional training in order to move up the hierarchy outlined in this classification.

Exam Logistics

Existing sleep societies may request having the WASM Examination administered to candidates wishing for WASM certification. When the WASM Governing Board approves a site for examination, an Examination Joint Operations Committee is formed. The WASM Exam Committee with submit an overview of the proposed summary content and this will be reviewed and modified (if needed) by the Joint Operations Committee. Once the overall content summary is agreed upon then a draft exam will be extracted and constructed from the Question Bank. If necessary, the exam will then be translated (and back-translated) and the results will be reviewed. The examination will be administered with verification locally that the test taker is the certified candidate. Test results will be blinded and scored. Problem questions will be identified by the WASM Examination Committee and the actual questions and translations (when appropriate) will be sent to the joint committee for adjudication.