ABVS - Definitions of Terms Applied to Veterinary Specialization

July 2017


A. Academy—An exclusive body of learned persons with the objective of promoting scholarship and service. Membership is based on scientific or scholastic achievement and exercise of professional skills. An academy is not a recognized veterinary specialty organization.

B. Active diplomate—A diplomate of a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO) who is in good standing with that organization through fulfilling specified requirements, including dues payments, and who is active in the practice of the recognized veterinary specialty (RVS).

C. Association—An organization of veterinarians with the objective of advancing mutual professional interest(s).

D. Board—A small group of members designated by a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO) to conduct the examination of candidates, or an organization of specialists having the objective of examining candidates for certification. Some RVSOs have used the term “board” synonymously with the broader concept of college. This use of the term has been accepted by the ABVS. This use is distinct from the more limited concept of “certification board” which are entities created by an RVSO solely for the purpose of credentialing candidates for the parent RVSO. In such a case, within the parent RVSO there may be both a “College” (the parent organization) and a “Certification Board” which is affiliated with the college and certifies candidates seeking diplomate status within the college.

E. Certificate—Various organizations issue documents (certificates) attesting to attendance or participation in an educational program or series of programs. Some certificates are awarded after an individual demonstrates accomplishment of intended learning outcomes of a specific topic or skill by passing an examination based upon the information provided by the organization. The issuance of these certificates should not be confused with the certification process (i.e., certificate holders are not ‘certified in’ the field) and is not comparable to the recognition of specialists in veterinary medicine.

F. Certification—The process of determining whether a veterinarian has successfully completed a training program and examination process designed to assess the knowledge and skills required for providing high quality professional services and patient care in a specialty.

G. Certified in—The AVMA limits the use of "certified in" to those individuals who have completed the certification process of an AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization, veterinary specialty, or veterinary subspecialty.

H. Certification Board–In some circumstances an RVSO may create an independent certifying agency, typically referred to as a board, which will be affiliated with the parent RVSO from the perspective of reporting to ABVS, but whose sole purpose is the credentialing and examination of candidates for the RVSO. The decisions and determinations of this certification board will be independent of influence from the associated RVSO.

I. Charter diplomate—A historical term used to indicate a member of an RVSO organizing committee that was granted diplomate status, generally without examination. Often referred to as "grandfathered" diplomates, the term became obsolete in 2017. See "Founder".

J. College—An organization of veterinarians that has as its objectives the establishment of standards for the education and experience necessary for qualification as a specialist, and the examination and certification of veterinarians in the specialty. The term college is favored by the ABVS and is synonymous with specialty board in the designation of a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO).

K. Criterion referencing—A criterion-referenced score interpretation involves comparing a test score to a cutoff score that represents a performance standard.

L. Degree program—A degree program is an educational program leading to an MS, PhD, or equivalent degree that may or may not be combined with residency training.

M. Diploma—A document awarded to an individual upon successful completion of the training and examination requirements established by a board of experts in a specific field of veterinary medicine, indicating that the individual has been board-certified in that field.

N. Diplomate—A veterinarian who is certified as a specialist in a particular discipline by one of the AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organizations.

O. Diplomate in good standing—See active diplomate.

P. Diplomate not in good standing—A diplomate of a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO) who has not complied with the specified requirements of a diplomate in good standing established by that organization, (e.g. failure to pay dues). A diplomate who is not in good standing typically may not participate in governance activities of the RVSO, but the lack of good standing does not change their status as a board certified specialist. A diplomate who does not successfully complete their maintenance of credential requirements does lose diplomate status and may no longer claim to be a board certified specialist.

Q. Discipline—A field of study or expertise definable as a distinct area of veterinary medicine.

R. Distinguished member—A diplomate of a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO) who is acknowledged as distinguished based on criteria established by that organization.

S. Emeritus diplomate—A diplomate of a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO) who either reaches an age designated by the RVSO or has retired from active practice of the recognized veterinary specialty.

T. Examination eligibility—A veterinarian is examination-eligible when he/she has successfully completed the established requirements of a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO) and has been accepted to take its next certifying examination. Individuals must not use the term board-eligible as a descriptor in promotional materials directed toward other members of the profession or the public.

U. Founder diplomate—A member of the organizing committee as described in section II, part D1 of the Policies of the ABVS.

V. Full recognition—A classification assigned to a veterinary specialty organization that meets or exceeds all standards established by the ABVS for recognition by the AVMA.

W. Honorary member—RVSOs must not award a title of honorary diplomate but instead use honorary member. A veterinarian or non-veterinarian who is nominated by, meets criteria specified by, and is approved by the RVSO or an RVS. An honorary member shall be a nonvoting member and shall not hold office in the specialty organization and shall not claim certification status in the specialty.

X. Internship—An internship shall be one-year of flexible, rotating clinical training in veterinary medicine beyond the professional degree. It provides practical experience in applying knowledge gained during formal professional education and offers an opportunity for recent graduates to obtain additional training in the clinical sciences. An internship is composed of a broad range of supervised clinical assignments. This year of comprehensive, broad, postgraduate training and experience prepares a veterinarian for high-quality service in practice or for a decision on an area of specialization. It is important that an internship be truly a rotation, involving a wide range of clinical activities.

Y. Job/task analysis—A systematic procedure for defining the tasks required by a job and the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other personal characteristics required of individuals performing that job. The results of a job/task analysis form the basis for determining the examination contents necessary to test mastery of that field.

Z. Letter of intent—A letter from an organizing group which plans to submit a petition for recognition as either an RVSO, an RVS, or an RVSS. This letter will indicate that the group has read and understands the standards of the ABVS which are applicable to their group, that they have read and understand the procedures for obtaining AVMA-recognition, and that they have the agreement of the RVSO under which they will apply if they are applying as an RVS or RVSS. It will provide a list of the members of the organizing committee and their credentials. It will specify if there is going to be an affiliated, independent certifying board and, if so, the proposed relationship between the RVSO, RVS, or RVSS and the certifying agency.

AA. Organizing committee—A group of individuals that must consist of no fewer than 16 members for a veterinary specialty organization or eight members for a veterinary specialty, that conduct the business of an emerging veterinary specialty seeking recognition by the AVMA.

BB. Probationary recognition—A classification assigned to a recognized veterinary specialty organization (RVSO) that meets most, but not all, of the established criteria for continued full recognition.

CC. Provisional recognition—A classification assigned to a new veterinary specialty organization, veterinary specialty, or veterinary subspecialty that has not applied for full recognition or has not met all the criteria pertaining to complete formalization of its structure and objectives.

DD. Qualifying routes—A qualifying route is a route established by the RVSO or RVS, through education, training, or experience to qualify candidates for examination in a timely manner.  Qualifying routes can occur either within or outside a standard residency or degree program. Any experience requirements must be clearly defined, relevant to the objectives of the specialty, and amenable to evaluation and approval by the RVSO.

EE. Recognized veterinary specialist—A veterinarian who is certified by an AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization.

1. Recognized system specialist—A recognized specialist in a field that has as its primary emphasis a specific organ or body system within veterinary medicine (e.g., ophthalmology, neurology, dermatology). This field may involve different species, and may involve different medical and/or surgical disciplines within the representative body system or organ that is the primary area of specialization.

2. Recognized discipline specialist—A recognized specialist in a field that has as its primary emphasis a particular discipline within veterinary medicine (e.g., internal medicine, surgery, pathology, virology, toxicology, pharmacology, nutrition, preventive medicine and public health). This field may involve different species, and may involve different body systems or organs within the representative discipline that is the primary area of specialization.

3. Recognized species specialist—A recognized specialist in a field that has as its primary emphasis a particular species or group of species within veterinary medicine (e.g., laboratory animal medicine, zoological medicine, or canine and feline practice). This field may represent different medical or surgical disciplines, and may involve different body systems or organs within the representative species that are the primary focus of specialization.

FF. Recognized veterinary specialty—A clearly defined field of veterinary medicine comprising a species, discipline, or system within veterinary medicine and whose members acquire knowledge and skills through formal training, experimentation, and a standard approach to veterinary medicine. These focused areas of practice are under the umbrella of a parent AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization (see Figure 1). Examples include, but are not restricted to, the recognized veterinary specialties of neurology, cardiology, oncology, and internal medicine within the ACVIM and the practice categories of avian, feline, equine, dairy, swine health management and food animal within the ABVP.

GG. Recognized veterinary specialty organization—An organization that has been recognized by the AVMA as establishing standards for a specialty, certifying veterinarians who meet those standards, and serving as the organizational and administrative unit for one or more recognized veterinary specialties (see Figure 1). Veterinarians undergoing a formal program of credentialing and certification will be members of the RVSO and designated as a diplomate (a recognized specialist in one or more of the recognized veterinary specialties under the organizational umbrella).

HH. Recognized veterinary subspecialty—A component of an RVS requiring the exercise of skills and the application of knowledge in a specific field but performance at a higher standard than that required for a veterinary recognized specialist functioning within an RVS (see Figure 1).

II. Residency—A residency shall be advanced training in a specialty in veterinary medicine that is intended to lead to specialty certification in an AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization. A residency program is conducted under the supervision of a board-certified specialist. A residency is usually narrowly confined to a specific discipline. A residency may in some instances be related to an advanced degree program.

JJ. Society—An organization of veterinarians and others having a common interest in a discipline of veterinary medicine. A society usually has as its objective the encouragement of scholarship, through educational programs, among those interested in the discipline. A society is not a recognized specialty certifying organization.

KK. Specialist—See recognized veterinary specialist.

LL. Specialty—See recognized veterinary specialty.

MM. Student associate—A veterinary student who is interested in a particular RVS, but who is not a diplomate of that RVSO and thus not a voting member of that organization.

NN.  Waiting period—A waiting period is defined as a period of time between completion of a qualifying route and candidate eligibility to sit for the certifying examination that cannot be justified as necessary and relevant to the objectives of the RVSO. A waiting period is not permitted by the ABVS.