Becoming a Specialist: FAQs

What is the process to become board-certified?

An individual who is board-certified in a veterinary specialty has graduated from a veterinary school

followed by several years of advanced training and/or experience in a specialized field of veterinary

medicine. Board-certification is awarded if, or when, the individual demonstrates an advanced level of

knowledge and skill by successfully passing a certification examination developed and administered by an AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organization.


What schooling/training is required for a veterinarian to become a specialist?

Each AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organization (RVSO) develops its own training

requirements that need to be met before an individual can be eligible to attempt the certification

examination. The most common pathway for a veterinarian to become eligible to take a certification

examination in a veterinary specialty is through the completion of an internship (usually 1 year) followed

by completion of a residency training program (usually 2-3 years) under the supervision of veterinarians

who are board-certified in that specialty. However, there are some exceptions. Some RVSO’s will accept

several years of veterinary practice experience in lieu of an internship and at least 1 RVSO (the

American Board of Veterinary Practitioners) accepts extensive practice experience with a certain species

to become eligible to examine for certification as a specialist with that species.


What other requirements are there to become a specialist?

Each AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organization (RVSO) develops its own requirements that

need to be met before an individual can be eligible to attempt the certification examination. Many

RVSO’s not only require extensive training under supervision of veterinarians who are board-certified in

that specialty, but may also require some training in related areas of veterinary medicine to ensure a

comprehensive knowledge of closely related areas of veterinary medicine. For example, to become boardcertified in veterinary surgery, an individual must also complete at least 80 hours of training with a

board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist, at least 80 hours with a board-certified veterinary radiologist,

at least 80 hours with a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist, and at least 80 hours with

a board-certified veterinary pathologist during the 3 or more years of a veterinary surgical residency.

RVSO’s may stipulate other requirements as well before an individual’s credentials are accepted for

examination for certification. For example, many RVSO’s require that the individual complete a unique

research project or clinical study and successfully publish those results before the individual can be

considered for examination. It is also common for an individual to be required to attend courses or

conferences offering advanced lectures or technique laboratories.


What kind of examination is required before a veterinarian can become board-certified?

All AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations (RVSO’s) administer examinations that are

developed and based upon the results of a job/task analysis of experts in that specialized field of

veterinary medicine. The blueprint and content of the examination is a direct reflection of the knowledge

and skills used by board-certified experts during their practice of that field of specialized veterinary

medicine. The actual format of the examination varies between different RVSO’s and may include

multiple choice, written, oral, or practical exams or, more commonly, some combination of formats and

typically are administered over a 2-3 day period.


Where would a veterinarian go to school to become a specialist?

Although most of the AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations have the word ‘college’ in

their name (ie, American College of Veterinary Dermatology, etc), they are not colleges in the traditional,

brick and mortar, sense. Rather they are ‘colleges’ in that they define the educational requirements to

become a specialist and administer the examinations to verify that candidates have achieved those

requirements. Many internships and residency programs are located at university veterinary teaching

hospitals. There are also many internships and residency programs that are at private practice specialty

clinics and hospitals that are not affiliated with universities.


What degree is received?

Individuals that have successfully passed a board-certification examination of one of these RVSO’s are

said to be ‘Diplomates’ although no academic degree is awarded. Individuals who have achieved boardcertification in a specialty identify themselves as Diplomates of that specialty. For example, an individual

might have following their name: Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Anesthesiology or Dip,

ACVA or simply DACVA.

However, ‘Diplomate’ is not a title that can be copy-righted and therefore there is no legal restriction on

organizations that are not AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations awarding the same

designation. It is, however, against AVMA policy for veterinarians who are not board-certified by one of

the AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations to represent themselves as specialists and, in

fact, doing so would be against many state laws governing the practice of veterinary medicine.


Why would a veterinarian want to become a specialist?

There is no one answer as to why individuals pursue board-certification in a veterinary specialty. Some

are motivated by the desire to be on the leading edge of the practice of veterinary medicine, others may

be pursuing jobs in academia or private industry where specialty certification might be a requirement.


 What are the different specialties?

There are 22 different AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations; some of these are

comprised of 2 or more related specialties. For example, the American College of Veterinary Internal

Medicine includes specialties in not only in internal medicine, but also in cardiology, neurology, and

oncology. For a list of AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations, see


How are specialists important to the profession?

Specialists perform an important role in the continuum of health care of animals in that they offer

services, knowledge, and skills beyond that typically offered by veterinarians. Many times, specialists

may be contributing to cases seen by your veterinarian. This may occur as a consultation with a specialist

by your veterinarian during a puzzling or difficult case. Other times, specialists may be involved ‘behind

the scenes’. For example, the person interpreting the number and appearance of blood cells on a sample.

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