Becoming a Specialist: FAQs

What is the process to become board-certified?

An individual who is board-certified in a veterinary specialty has both graduated from a veterinary school and undergone several years of advanced training in a specialized field of veterinary medicine. Board-certification is awarded if/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 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?

Many RVSO’s require additional 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 an analysis of experts in that specialized field of 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 (i.e., American College of Veterinary Dermatology), they are not colleges in the traditional 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 teaching hospitals. There are also many internships and residency programs at private practice specialty clinics and hospitals not affiliated with universities.

What degree is received?

Individuals that have successfully passed a board-certification examination are said to be ‘Diplomates’ although no academic degree is awarded. 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 copyrighted 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.

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