Approaches to postgraduate medical training have evolved substantially in recent years, reflecting the complexity of the educational mission. Residency programs seek to produce clinicians who achieve board certification as an attestation of their competency. Certification criteria are established by the American Board of Medical Specialties, are consistent from state to state, and include periods of supervised instruction ranging from as few as three years (for primary care specialties) to much longer for selected disciplines. In contrast, minimum postgraduate training criteria necessary for licensure as an independent practitioner are established by state medical boards and vary significantly among and within jurisdictions. In most states, licenses can be granted to individuals who have completed as little as one year of postgraduate training. The discrepancy between the minimum time commitment necessary to become a competent physician and that to be licensed as an independent practitioner has implications for health care quality and safety. Data are lacking as to the number of licenses issued nationally to individuals who have only partially completed residency training and the nature of practices they pursue. Extrapolating from available evidence, these individuals may very well provide care inferior to those who have satisfied training requirements for certification eligibility and be more prone to problematic behavior resulting in disciplinary action. Efforts to establish more rigorous licensure criteria will require dialog between members of the academic community, professional organizations, state medical boards, and legislatures. The recently proposed Interstate Medical Licensure Compact may serve as a prototype for achieving this goal.