As Chief Marketing Officer at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota (AERC), I often meet pet owners who don’t know what a veterinary specialist is. That’s understandable, because people usually don’t know what one is—until their pet needs one.
Your family veterinarian received four years of training in veterinary college, in addition to four years of an undergraduate degree that helped prepare her to go to vet college. Her veterinary degree gives her a broad education in wellness care for pets of all ages (and several species!) as well as disease processes, dentistry, surgery, radiology, nutrition, behavior, and emergency medicine.
Your family vet is much like a general practice medical doctor; you go to your doctor for wellness exams and preventive medicine as well as when you’re not feeling well. If, at one of these visits, your general practice doctor thought your stomach troubles required further workup, she might refer you to an internist. If you needed your gall bladder removed, she might refer you to a surgeon. The same specialists are available in veterinary medicine: internists, surgeons, cardiologists, dermatologists, dentists, ophthalmologists—the list goes on and on.
Specialists are board-certified veterinarians who, like your family vet, graduated from veterinary school, but then took several additional years of advanced training or experience in a specialized field of veterinary medicine. Then, the specialty candidate has to pass a certification examination developed and administered by a Veterinary Specialty Organization. Because of all that training, board-certified specialists are very skilled in their field of specialty, but their knowledge base is much less broad than that of your family veterinarian. You wouldn’t want a board-certified veterinary dermatologist to spay your cat, because he or she is a specialist in the field of skin and has chosen to pursue that particular study path. But it’s great to have the option of seeing a board-certified veterinary dermatologist if your dog has a skin condition that just won’t go away!
At AERC, our specialty departments employ only board-certified specialists. That’s not true of all referral centers, but we believe the extra training and certification is important—to our referring family veterinarians, to our patients, and to our clients. We also believe in partnering with you and your family veterinarian to provide your pet with optimal care.
How do you know if a veterinarian is a specialist? Good question! There are 22 different AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations. Typically, veterinarians who are board-certified will indicate that either by explicitly stating “board-certified” in their field. In the case of a board-certified veterinary dentist, he or she might also use the designation of “Diplomate, American Veterinary Dental College” or “Dip, AVDC” or simply “DAVDC.” A surgeon would be “Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgery” or “DACVS.”
So now you know what a board-certified veterinary specialist is!