May 01, 2015


 New specialists must demonstrate continuing expertise

The AVMA began a process for recognition of veterinary specialty organizations back in 1951. Ever since, most veterinarians who have completed the requirements for board certification have been considered to be board-certified specialists for life.

Starting in 2016, however, all new specialists will have to demonstrate efforts to maintain their competence, to maintain their certification.

The mission of the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties is to recognize and encourage development of veterinary specialty organizations “promoting advanced levels of competency in well-defined areas of study or practice categories to provide the public with exceptional veterinary service.”

Dr. Dennis D. French, ABVS chair, said maintenance of certification “identifies and defines the fact that you have continued to demonstrate expertise.”

According to the ABVS Policies and Procedures, specialty organizations must issue time-limited certificates for new diplomates beginning no later than 2016. Maintenance of certification may be by examination or a point system. Diplomates may accrue points via a variety of activities.

Specialty organizations must evaluate their diplomates for maintenance of certification at least every 10 years. An honor system for compliance by diplomates is acceptable if the group conducts random audits of compliance.

Requirements for maintenance of certification cannot be imposed on existing diplomates, but the ABVS encourages the specialty organizations to initiate systems for voluntary replacement of undated certificates with dated certificates that require maintenance.

Dr. French said all the specialty organizations now have a framework in place for maintenance of certification, but some are still developing the details. Most groups are using a point system rather than examinations. Some of the cafeteria-style options include attending meetings, completing continuing education, writing examination items, and contributing to the literature.

Dr. French, who oversees care of rural animals at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, has been a diplomate in Equine Practice of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners since 1985. The ABVP has required maintenance of certification since the founding of the organization in 1978. 

Dr. Dennis D. French (left), a diplomate in Equine Practice of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners since 1985, helps care for horses in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The ABVP has from its founding required diplomates to maintain their certification. (Courtesy of Dr. Dennis D. French)

The founders of the ABVP thought maintenance of certification would always be by examination, Dr. French said, but the organization added cafeteria-style options in 1998. He said one argument for the latter is that diplomates can hone skills matching their passion within the specialty. He has maintained his own certification by sitting for examination in 1993 and by going the point route in 2003 and 2014.

Dr. Andris J. Kaneps of Kaneps Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery in New England is a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, a new organization that received provisional recognition in 2010, as well as a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. He said the ACVSMR went ahead with requiring maintenance of certification for all diplomates.

The group is using a point system. Diplomates can earn points for activities such as writing questions for the certifying examination, publishing, speaking, and completing continuing education. The formula assigns more weight to activities that result in more in-depth rebuilding of a diplomate’s knowledge base and to contributions that make more of an impact on the specialty.  

Dr. French believes maintenance of certification is worthwhile and that diplomates will not find it to be too onerous.

“If we’re calling ourselves specialists, then there ought to be some degree of assuredness that that level of specialty has been maintained,” Dr. French said.  

Related JAVMA content:


Website provides specialties’ reading lists

A group of veterinary librarians has created a master website compiling recommended reading lists for candidates preparing for veterinary specialty board examinations—and linking to library resources.

The project was undertaken because veterinarians and others requested help with verifying and locating items on the examination reading lists. The master website allows visitors from across the country to locate books and journals in geographic proximity. On the basis of the master template, university librarians can create websites with information about how to access items from the reading lists via the university’s collection.

Project collaborators verify publication information for the books, journals, and articles on the reading lists. On the master website, clicking on the title of a book and entering a zip code will list the closest libraries that own the book.

Links to journals or articles go to open-access versions if they are available. Otherwise, the link goes to the article or journal’s permanent online location.

The Veterinary Medical Libraries Section of the Medical Library Association manages the project. Librarians at Texas A&M University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Tennessee created the master website. They work with specialty organizations to ensure that the master website aligns with the current reading lists.

Veterinarians and others can check with the nearest veterinary college to see whether there is a website with university access information.