AVMA Answers

Published on July 15, 2004
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How does the American Board of Veterinary Specialties regulate specialties?

 Dr. Elizabeth A. Sabin, assistant director of the AVMA Education and Research Division and
staff consultant to the ABVS, responds:

The American Board of Veterinary Specialties, an AVMA entity and an umbrella organization, is composed of a representative from every recognized veterinary specialty organization. Currently, there are 20 members, and each is appointed by the specialty organization. There are also two liaison members, one from the AVMA Council on Education and the other from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. Liaison members are nonvoting, but participate fully.

Recommendations for recognition status—that is, ongoing recognition, new recognition, and disciplinary actions—go from the ABVS to the AVMA Council on Education for review, through the COE liaison. The AVMA Executive Board provides final approval.

The ABVS, in governing the specialty organizations, is not prescriptive. It sets guidelines that allow the profession and the public to realize what it means to be a board-certified diplomate of any of the specialty boards or colleges, while at the same time, allowing each of the specialty organizations to develop, as needed. There is a wide range of sizes and governing structures among the 20 recognized specialty organizations, so the ABVS provides guidelines that all must meet in order to have a common set of standards for diplomates.

Specialty organizations also need to adhere to organizational guidelines outlined in the ABVS Policies and Procedures Manual. So, for example, colleges must adhere to certain examination procedures, such as ensuring that questions are developed, reviewed, and graded in an acceptable manner. They must establish and abide by clearly stated standards for admission to membership. They have to provide notification within a certain period of time to candidates who aren't successful, so they can reapply. These guidelines help assure veterinarians seeking diplomate status that all candidates are being treated the same way. All veterinary specialties involve education, training, and examination, and this is clearly spelled out in ABVS guidelines and each organization's operational documents.

All of the recognized veterinary specialty organizations also have to report to the ABVS on an annual basis, and those reports are then reviewed. The specialty organizations have to show, for example, evidence of their growth and discuss examination processes. They have to point out major changes in their constitution and bylaws and their governing documents, and indicate where their diplomates are employed—academia, private practice, government—things like that. Then, every five years, each of the colleges has to submit an in-depth report for extensive review by the ABVS.

Organization within specialty colleges has changed over the years. As specialties themselves become more specialized, and, likewise, certification, examination, and training become more specialized, specific specialties may develop within a specialty organization. For example, within the American College of Veterinary Pathologists, there are two specialties: anatomic pathology and clinical pathology. Each has its own training and examination pathway. More recently, this has been taken one step further with the development of subspecialties. For example, toxicologic pathology was recognized in 2004 as a subspecialty under the specialty of anatomic pathology.

For a list of recognized specialties, consult the AVMA Directory or go to www.avma.org and click on "Veterinary Specialty Organizations" on the left side of the screen.