Options for Veterinary Specialization

I spend a lot of time talking about a traditional clinical faculty career path: vet school -> internship -> residency -> faculty position.  If you spend any time speaking with faculty members, though, you will discover an incredible array of paths they took to get there. Some worked in medical schools, some were in practice, some worked for industry or got a graduate degree.  If you want to become a board-certified specialist, below are the options for paths to a variety of specialties.

Internship or Equivalent Experience

This is the most common prerequisite for clinical specialties.  Most specialties indicate “internship or private practice experience.”  Although technically equivalent, for most specialties, it is very difficult to go from practice to a residency without doing an internship.  And getting an internship after being in practice can be quite challenging. Specialties that require an internship or equivalent experience are ABVP (residency track), ACVAA, ACVB, ACVD, ACVIM, ACVN, ACVO, ACVR, ACVSMR, ACVS, ACVECC, AVDC.  An internship is one year. Equivalent practice experience may be one year or more.

Practice Experience

The ABVP was designed to give a certification for general practitioners without the need for a residency.  Applicants must complete 5 years of practice before application and 6 years before examination. The ACVPM has a requirement of 4 years of practice in areas of preventative medicine defined in their Constitution.

Graduate Degree

Some specialties do not require an internship or residency, but, instead, require a graduate degree or equivalent experience after your DVM.  These include ABVT, ACVM, and ACPV. Some Master’s degrees you may be able to complete in a year but, realistically, it probably requires 1.5-2 years.  PhDs may take from 3-7 years.

No Practice Experience

A few specialties don’t require any clinical practice experience before a residency- you can go right into them from vet school.  You can also enter them after going into general practice. These include ACLAM, ACVCP, and ACVP. Obviously, this is the shortest path to a residency- 0 years!

Alternate Tracks

Many specialties have an alternate track, where you can be supervised by a specialist but not in the context of a traditional residency.  Usually, this is as a consequence of geography- you can’t go to where the mentor specialist primarily practices 100% of the time. Most of these have some practice experience requirements before starting the alternate track.  Notably, the ACT does not- you can go right into an alternate track program from vet school. Alternate tracks typically take longer than traditional tracks, although not necessarily. While a traditional track residency is usually 3 years, alternate track residencies are often 5 years.

There are many faculty members in veterinary medicine who are not board-certified.  They are in basic science disciplines and have a Ph.D. and, probably, post-doc experience.  For those who are interested in board-certification, the above routes are the ones available to you.  You don’t HAVE to do an internship to become a specialist- there are many paths open if you are willing to be flexible and creative.

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