More training, more specialization planned
Within the next several years, veterinarians seeking accreditation through the National Veterinary Accreditation Program and those wishing to remain accredited will have to complete ongoing supplemental education requirements to ensure they are up-to-date on the latest regulatory and animal disease issues.
About 80 percent of veterinarians in the United States are accredited through the NVAP, which authorizes them to perform certain regulatory duties on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, according to Dr. Lawrence E. Miller, the program manager for NVAP. These practitioners supplement the ranks of government veterinarians, serve as the front line of disease control for the nation, and help facilitate international and domestic trade in animals.
But concerns from international trading partners about the program, the increased risk of intentional or unintentional animal disease transmission, and a need for better communication between the USDA and accredited veterinarians have prompted government officials, in collaboration with veterinary leaders, to revamp the program.
The Veterinary Services division of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service manages the program. Currently, veterinarians seeking accreditation attend one national core orientation led by federal administrators. Additionally, veterinarians seeking accreditation are required to have their veterinary degree, and a license in the state where they wish to perform accreditation duties, and must apply with the federal office in the state to receive approval to perform accreditation duties. Many states require the veterinarian to complete an additional state-specific orientation. Once they are accredited, they remain so, as long as they are licensed to practice and continue to perform accreditation duties in accordance with regulatory requirements.
The orientation aspect of the program will stay the same, but other changes are needed, according to Dr. Miller. Part of the reason for the changes is that in most other countries, only government veterinarians perform official regulatory functions. Many officials in those countries are concerned about the U.S. system, citing possible conflicts of interest for private practitioners. They also are concerned about the overall lack of educational rigor in the current NVAP.
"(The NVAP) is considered suspect by many of our international trading partners," Dr. Miller said.
In addition, there are domestic concerns about the lack of periodic education to keep accredited veterinarians current on emerging diseases and changes in regulatory requirements.
"Accredited veterinarians are the first line of defense," Dr. Miller said.
To address these concerns and boost the overall effectiveness of the program, Veterinary Services began working with veterinary leaders and organizations to develop a more valid set of requirements.
Under the new requirements, veterinarians who wish to become accredited will have to meet ongoing supplemental training requirements, and will have to renew their accreditation every three years. Veterinarians will be able to renew by applying online or mailing an application form once they have met the supplemental training requirements.
Dr. Miller said for the most rigorous category of accreditation, supplemental education would take about three hours per year for accredited veterinarians to complete.
"It's a small price to pay to stay current and stay plugged into the animal health community," he said.
There will be two categories of accreditation for veterinarians to choose from. Veterinarians who choose category 1 accreditation will be accredited only for small animal work and will have to complete four supplemental training modules to renew every three years. Veterinarians who choose category 2 will undergo more rigorous training and be accredited for large and small animals. They will have to complete nine supplemental training modules to renew every three years.
Supplemental training to meet these requirements will be available free, online, or through the mail for a small fee, and some classroom instruction will be offered at the state level.
Veterinarians may also elect to gain specialized accreditation in areas such as quality control certification of producer facilities, emergency management, scrapie testing, cervid testing, aquaculture, and Johne's disease.
"These are marketable services," he said. "There's a benefit economically for the producer and the veterinarian."
Dr. Miller said APHIS-VS plans to publish a proposed rule on the changes to the accreditation program in spring of 2005 and veterinarians will have an opportunity to provide additional comments at that point. (Veterinarians were invited to comment previously; see JAVMA, May 15, 2002, pages 1470-1472.) He hopes the final rule will be in place by late 2005 or early 2006.
In addition to the new accreditation requirements, APHIS-VS plans to improve Internet communications with accredited veterinarians. The agency is developing a system that will allow veterinarians to file certificates online and keep their accreditation information up-to-date. The program will allow for more timely communication with veterinarians through e-mail and the NVAP Web site. These measures will help keep accredited veterinarians in the loop, and will allow APHIS to more quickly respond to animal disease events.
"We will be able to communicate with accredited veterinarians more effectively than we have in the past," Dr. Miller said.