ABVS - Standards for the Recognition of Veterinary Specialty Organizations

July 2017


A. Definition of a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO)

An AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization that meets the standards established by the ABVS for certification of veterinarians in a specialized field of veterinary medicine.

B. Standards for recognition of veterinary specialty organizations by the AVMA

For a veterinary specialty organization (or their independent certification board) to be recognized by the AVMA, they must:

1. Demonstrate that improved veterinary medical services will be provided to the public.

2. Serve a clearly defined need within the profession.

3. Have an adequate number of potential diplomates to fulfill the functions and expenses required of a certification body, including verification of candidate credentials, examination development and administration, and provision of an appeal process independent from the credentialing and examination processes.

4. Represent a distinct and identifiable specialty of veterinary medicine, one that is supported by a base of scientific knowledge and practice that is acceptable to the profession and the public.

5. Establish and abide by clearly stated standards for certification of diplomates.

a. The RVSO (or their independent certification board) must examine only veterinarians who:

i.  Have a degree necessary for the practice of veterinary medicine in some state, province, territory, or possession of the United States, Canada, or other country.
ii. Meet the education, training, and experience requirements established by the RVSO (or their independent certification board).
iii. Demonstrate unquestionable moral character and ethical professional behavior.

b. The RVSO (or their independent certification board) must certify only veterinarians who have demonstrated, by meeting established training and/or experience requirements and by attaining acceptable scores on comprehensive examinations administered by the RVSO, their fitness and ability to practice the specialty.

6. Ensure that all training or experience requirements and all prerequisites for examination serve the purpose of assessing the competency of the candidate.

7. Establish routes through education, training, and experience to qualify candidates for examination. Information about these routes must be available to any potential candidate.

8. Not require any period that involves merely a passage of time (waiting period) between successful completion of formal training and eligibility to sit for examination. Experience requirements must be clearly defined, relevant to the objectives of the specialty, and amenable to evaluation. Knowledge of those requirements must be readily attainable by potential candidates.

9. Notify candidates promptly of any deficiencies in credentials that prevent their examination or certification by the RVSO (or their independent certification board).

10. Adhere to the following examination procedures:

a. Examinations must reflect the professional competence expected of the diplomate based on a job/task analysis performed at least once every 10 years (Proviso: recognized veterinary specialty organizations have until December 31, 2016 to be in compliance with this criterion).

b. Time between final credentials decisions and the examination date must be sufficient (not less than 120 days) to permit adequate examination preparation or appeal of an adverse decision.

c. If a candidate’s credentials are denied and an appeal is filed, the RVSO must review this appeal and inform the candidate of their decision at least 45 days prior to the examination date.

d. Candidates must receive a content outline (blueprint) of the exam and exam format prior to the exam.

e. Candidates must be informed prior to the examination of the passing point, or, if this is not determined in advance, the method of setting the passing point. The passing point may be adjusted lower than a previously published passing point, but not higher, after administering the exam.

f. Avoid personal conflict, or the appearance of conflict, that could affect results of examinations.

g. Candidates must be notified of their examination results contemporaneously. Regardless of notification method, each candidate who took the examination must be notified of his/her result prior to notifying the general membership or the parent RVSO if certification is performed by an independent certification board. A reasonable time limit must be established (not to exceed 45 days) for notifying candidates with the results of the examination.

h. Candidates who do not successfully complete the examination (including any oral examination), must, upon request, be provided with an explanation of the deficiencies that prevented their passing the examination. The procedure for obtaining this review must be published by the veterinary specialty organization (or their independent certification board) prior to the examination.

i. All candidates must be informed of their remaining eligibility and reapplication procedures.

j. Accommodate reasonable requests from applicants with documented disabilities for special test considerations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Model language for ADA requests is provided in appendix F.

11. Provide certification attesting to diplomate status:

a. There shall be one certification for each RVSO and/or recognized veterinary specialty (RVS), should the RVSO have more than one RVS, indicating the individual is certified in the AVMA-recognized specialty.
b. Certification of diplomate status will be issued by the certifying entity of the RVSO.

12. Have a mandatory program for maintenance of certification (MOC). Beginning no later than 2016 all awarded diplomate certification must be time dated. A MOC program requires actions by newly-certified diplomates to maintain their certification that includes an evaluation process by their RVSO to ensure compliance. For those RVSOs with an independent certification board, the process for implementing MOC may be relegated to that board.

Each RVSO develops their own standards and protocol for their MOC program based on the following characteristics:

a. Examinations may be used but are not required.

b. A point system may be used and points may be accrued in a variety of ways (e.g., continuing education attendance or presentations, publications, serving on exam committees, etc.) as determined by the RVSO.

c. Evaluation of diplomates for MOC will occur every 10 years from the date of their initial certification (or renewal of certification), but an RVSO may choose a shorter period of time if desired.

d. An honor system for compliance, with diplomates self-declaring completion of requirements, is acceptable. However, if an honor system is used, random audits of diplomate compliance must be performed at a level determined by the RVSO.

e. MOC will not be retroactive to previously certified diplomates. That is, certificates awarded prior to the initiation of an MOC program (i.e., certificates that are not time dated) cannot be withdrawn for noncompliance with the MOC program.

f. RVSOs are encouraged to initiate a system of voluntary replacement of original certificates that are not time dated with certificates requiring maintenance. Procedures for certification maintenance will be the same as those required for diplomates attaining certification after the program has been initiated.

13. Establish a formal appeal procedure for candidates in case of an adverse decision by the RVSO (or the independent certification board). The appeal procedure must appear in the constitution, bylaws, and/or policies and procedures documents (e.g., policy and procedure manuals, standard operating procedures) of the organization, and must accompany each application form and notification of an adverse decision. For those RVSOs with an independent certification board, the appeals process must be defined the same in the operation documents of both entities.

14. Encourage and implement special training beyond the professional veterinary degree to enhance the ability of candidates to meet certification requirements and to maintain the competence of diplomates. The RVSO may provide educational or training programs to enhance the preparation of candidates; however, the RVSO must not require candidates to complete educational or training programs provided by the RVSO for eligibility for certification.

15. Avoid contracts or agreements leading to activities outside the scope of the stated objectives of the RVSO.

16. The constitution and/or bylaws and/or policies and procedures documents (e.g. policy and procedure manuals, standard operating procedures) of RVSOs and RVSs and any independent certification board created by an RVSO or an RVS must contain elements as specified in section II, part D9 of the Policies of the ABVS. Organizations must notify the ABVS of all changes in the RVSO’s, the RVS’s, and the independent certification board’s constitution, bylaws, and/or other policies and procedures documents at the time of the next annual report. Annual reports must include previous and newly accepted wording.

17. Be legally incorporated as a not-for-profit educational organization within a state or district of the United States, and have a determination made as to the federal tax status of the organization. Groups are encouraged to incorporate and secure tax exemption under section 501(C)(3) or 501 (C) (6) of the Internal Revenue Service code.

C. Procedures for obtaining AVMA recognition of a veterinary specialty organization

Procedures include a letter of intent, a period of public comment, and a complete, formal petition.

1. A group of veterinarians seeking AVMA recognition for a veterinary specialty organization must submit a letter of intent before November 1 containing the following information:

a. Acknowledgement that the organizing group has read and understands the standards that the ABVS applies for recommendation of AVMA recognition.
b. A statement that the organizing group has read the procedures for obtaining AVMA recognition.
c. Justification that the proposed specialty organization is distinct from presently recognized RVSOs or their RVSs.
d.  A list of the organizing committee members and their credentials (see II. Part D1 and D2 of the Policies of the ABVS).
e. Specify if there is going to be an affiliated, independent certifying body and, if so, the proposed relationship between the RVSO, or RVS.

2. Once a letter of intent has been received, the chair of the ABVS will assign two members of the ABVS to liaise with the group and assist them in preparing a petition for recognition as described in Section II, parts B and D of the Policies of the ABVS.

a. The liaison(s) will submit a written report each year to the ABVS Committee on the Development of New Specialties (CDNS) to document the progress of the group toward developing a petition for recognition as a veterinary specialty organization.
b. The liaisons’ report will be presented at the annual ABVS meeting.

In the circumstance that two or more groups approach the ABVS concurrently with the intent to seek recognition for the same (or a very similar) specialty in veterinary medicine, the ABVS will appoint the same liaisons to each group to determine if the groups will work together to create a unified petition for submission. The ABVS will not recognize duplicate or redundant RVSOs.

3. Once the proposed specialty organization is ready to move forward with their petition, a period of public comment is initiated before the complete, formal petition is submitted. Public comment is used to gauge the need for, and public acceptance of a new veterinary specialty from diverse stakeholders. The organizing committee of the petitioning veterinary specialty organization must submit the information found within Section II, Part D1, D2, D4 through D8, and D12 of the Policies of the ABVS for evaluation by the CDNS by November 1, in order to initiate the period of public comment.

a. The ABVS CDNS will review the information requested in Section II, Part C3 of the Policies for completeness at their late fall meeting; and if accepted, the period of public comment will begin shortly after the beginning of the next year. The CDNS will solicit information and opinion from the following groups:

i. The AVMA membership through an announcement in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and on the AVMA Web site.
ii.  Existing RVSOs.
iii. Appropriate veterinary societies and academies.
iv. Appropriate educational, research, governmental, military, commercial, and public bodies.

b.  The CDNS will review the information and opinions gathered by public comment and forward it to the petitioning veterinary specialty organization by September 1. Concerns and issues raised by the public must be addressed by the petitioning organization in the formal petition for AVMA recognition.

4.  A complete, formal petition (see section IV, part D of the Operating Procedures of the ABVS) must be submitted to the ABVS no more than four years after submission of the letter of intent. The ABVS may grant an extension of the four-year limit, if an extension is requested in writing that explains the necessity. In addition, the petition must be submitted to the liaison(s) for comments prior to submission to the ABVS (see section IV, part D of the Operating Procedures of the ABVS).

a. The petition must be submitted to the ABVS by November 1 for consideration during the late fall meeting of the CDNS.

b.  If the submission criteria in Section II Parts B and D of the Policies of the ABVS are met, the chair of the CDNS will assign two reviewers, one of which will be a member of the CDNS and the other an at-large ABVS representative, to evaluate the petition prior to the next full meeting of the ABVS.
c.  The two assigned reviewers will present their findings and recommendations at the next annual ABVS meeting. 

5. The ABVS considers the reviewers’ report of the complete, formal petition for recognition as a veterinary specialty organization at their annual meeting.

a. Representatives of the organizing group will be invited to attend, at their own expense, the meeting of the ABVS when their petition will be considered.
b.  Following discussion, the ABVS votes to accept or reject the formal petition. 
i. If the petition is found to be incomplete, the ABVS will make appropriate suggestions to the organizing committee regarding additions or corrections.
ii. If the petition is found to be complete (as described in Section II Part D of the Policies of the ABVS) and the petitioning organization is found to meet all of the standards in section II, Part B of the Policies, the ABVS  will forward the petition along with a recommendation for provisional recognition to the Board of Directors.

6. The Board of Directors will review the petition and the ABVS recommendation for recognition. If the BOD does not approve AVMA recognition of the petitioning organization, the petition will be returned to the ABVS with a statement of deficiencies identified.

7. If provisional recognition has been granted by the AVMA BOD, the newly recognized veterinary specialty organization may take any necessary steps to complete formalization of its structure and proceed to function under its constitution and/or bylaws. Including the creation of an independent certification board if that was outlined in their approved petition. The RVSO (or their independent certification board) may examine and certify candidates, collect dues, send a representative to ABVS meetings, and conduct other business as specified in its constitution and/or bylaws, and/or other policies and procedures documents.

8. Only those individuals completing the credentialing requirements and certification examinations after provisional recognition is achieved shall be considered board certified specialists in the RVSO field of veterinary medicine.

9. After a minimum of four years, but not more than ten years, under provisional recognition, a veterinary specialty organization may submit a request for full recognition to the ABVS. The ABVS may grant an extension of the 10-year time limit, if an extension is requested in writing. A petition for full recognition must be organized in the format described under the guidelines for five-year in-depth reviews (see section V, part B of the Operating Procedures of the ABVS), and  must indicate that the organization is fully functional and fulfilling its stated objectives.

10. The ABVS will review the request for full recognition and make appropriate suggestions to the provisionally recognized veterinary specialty organization concerning any necessary additions or corrections. If the documentation indicates that the organization meets all of the criteria in section II, parts B and D of the Policies of the ABVS, and is functioning effectively, the ABVS will forward the petition with a recommendation for approval to the AVMA BOD.

11. The AVMA BOD reviews the request and the recommendations of the ABVS. If the EB review is favorable and it appears that the specialty organization meets the criteria listed in Section II, Parts B and D of the Policies of the ABVS, and is functioning effectively, the BOD will approve that the requesting organization be granted full recognition by the AVMA. If the BOD review is not favorable, the petition is returned to the ABVS with a statement of deficiencies identified.

12. The AVMA BOD makes the final decision to grant or not grant recognition to a veterinary specialty organization. Decisions of the BOD are reported annually to the AVMA House of Delegates.

13. Adverse Decisions regarding recognition of new, or existing, veterinary specialty organizations - At any point during review of a petition for recognition of a veterinary specialty organization (as described in section II, parts C5 through C13 of the Policies of the ABVS) or review of an existing AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization, adverse decisions may be rendered. The entity denying approval will notify the organization of the adverse decision and the reasons for it within 30 days of the decision. The organization will be informed of its rights of appeal under the established general appellate procedures of the AVMA. The organization may take action to correct the deficiencies identified and resubmit a request for recognition; may petition the agency that made the adverse decision for reconsideration; or may appeal to the AVMA Board of Governors for review of the decision. Petitions for reconsideration or additional review must be made in accordance with the established general appellate procedures of the AVMA.

D. Contents for a petition for recognition of a new veterinary specialty organization

1. A veterinary specialty organization seeking AVMA recognition must designate an organizing committee limited in number to those essential to conduct the business of the specialty and to achieve provisional recognition. Members of the organizing committee must be veterinarians recognized as exceptionally qualified and who meet one or more of the following criteria:

a. Be a professor of the proposed specialty in a college or department of veterinary medicine.

b. Be an author of important publications resulting from research or practice in the specialty.

c. Have at least 10 years’ experience in the specialty and, by teaching, research, or practice, have contributed substantially to the development of the specialty.

d. Have advanced training in the specialty and have demonstrated competency through teaching, research, or practice in the specialty to which most of the individual’s professional time is devoted.

e. The petition must contain a curriculum vitae (see Appendix A) for each member of the organizing committee.

2. Members of the organizing committee:

a. Should include representatives from academia, research, industry, government, and the private sector where appropriate.

b. Should come from diverse geographical areas.

c. May include diplomates of another RVSO to assist in the organization of the new specialty but who do not wish to become a diplomate of the new specialty.

d. Shall be no fewer than 16 for a veterinary specialty organization and no fewer than eight for a veterinary specialty.

e. Will be "founders" of the RVSO but not be considered diplomates unless, or until, completion of the certification requirements of the RVSO.

g. May submit credentials and if accepted, sit the certification examination to become diplomates of the new specialty organization upon its recognition through examination.

3. The petitioning organization must document that it meets the standards for a veterinary specialty organization recognized by the AVMA as specified in section II, parts B1 through B16, of the Policies of the ABVS. Each item must be specifically addressed.

4. The petitioning organization must document the number of potential diplomates of the specialty available and convince the ABVS that within a reasonable period of time, growth of the veterinary specialty organization will result in a number of specialists that will have an impact on organized, private, corporate, academic, industrialized, or governmental veterinary medicine and the public.

5. The petitioning organization must justify its role in fulfilling a recognizable need and demonstrate that its existence is acceptable to the profession and the public.

6. The petitioning organization must identify the base of scientific knowledge and practice that forms the basis for recognition as a specialty and distinguishes it from all existing RVSOs. It will be necessary to:

a. Define the scientific basis of the proposed specialty.

b. Relate the subject matter to current professional and postgraduate veterinary medical curricula.

c. Describe how diplomates would be employed in public, institutional, and private practice (including the approximate number employed in each category, and the scientific disciplines relevant to each category).

d. Describe current or proposed continuing education programs.

7. There must be a description of relationships and commonalities with existing RVSOs.

8. There must be an explanation of why the relationships and commonalities with existing organizations are insufficient to warrant inclusion as a veterinary specialty or veterinary subspecialty of an existing organization.

9. A copy of the proposed constitution and/or bylaws and all available policies and procedures documents must be submitted, which shall contain within these documents, at minimum:

a. The name of the RVSO.

b. A statement of objectives.

c. Titles, election procedures, and duties of officers.

d. A description of membership categories, including duties, privileges, and method of selection for each.

e. Descriptions of qualifying routes, within and outside of standard residency or degree programs, to qualify candidates for examination in a timely manner.  Descriptions must include required education, experience, publications, teaching, research, nature of supervision of the candidate, and the qualifications of the mentor(s).

f. A description of the scope and nature of certifying examinations.

g. Procedures for establishing and amending dues and fees.

h. Causes and procedures for censuring or suspending diplomates or canceling certification.

i. Procedures for appealing adverse decisions.

j. Procedures for conducting business and meetings.

k. Procedures for amending the constitution and/or bylaws.

10. A letter of intent regarding creation of an independent certification board, if such an entity is planned, describing how that entity will be related to the parent RVSO and how its independence in the certification process will be sustained.

11. There must be a description of how the specialty plans to organize and initiate its functions (e.g., how the initial officers will perform their duties, how examinations will be prepared, administered, and monitored, and how training programs will be established). This will include a description of the relationship between the proposed RVSO and their independent certification board if one is to be created.

12. There must be evidence that facilities and programs are available for advanced training of veterinarians that will lead to certification in the veterinary specialty. A description of existing educational programs, including established postgraduate educational programs and the number of people in these programs must be provided. Objectives, measures of competence, and expected contributions and measurements of the success of such programs should be specified. Evidence for the continued existence and growth of educational programs in the veterinary specialty must be included.

13. A list of current and past officers of the organizing agency and a list of proposed founders of the veterinary specialty must be included, if applicable. Founders must be members of the organizing committee.

14. There must be a financial statement.

15. Any organization seeking new AVMA recognition as an RVSO, RVS, or RVSS, must represent to the AVMA that it is the owner of its name and logo and is entitled to use its name, logo and acronym in commerce; and that to the best of its knowledge and belief, no other person, firm, corporation, or association has the right to use its name in commerce, either in identical form or in such near resemblance thereto as to be likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception.