USDA to restructure accreditation program, require renewal

Tiered accreditation includes different requirements for companion, food animal care
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Veterinarians who want to keep their government accreditation will need to apply under one of two newly created accreditation categories.

And those who want to maintain their accreditation will need to pursue continuing education and request a renewal every three years.

A 16-page Federal Register notice published Dec. 9, 2009, details the new requirements for participants in the National Veterinary Accreditation Program, which allows veterinarians to perform some duties for the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Because of the changes, veterinarians who want to continue participating in the NVAP will have to apply under one of the new tiers. The new accreditation form is expected to be available by Feb. 1, 2010, when the regulation takes effect, at

Veterinarians who do not apply will lose their accreditation status Aug. 2. The USDA estimates there are about 71,000 accredited veterinarians in the U.S.

"These changes will increase the level of training and skill of accredited veterinarians in the areas of disease prevention and preparedness for animal health emergencies in the United States," the notice states.

One of the two accreditation categories will allow veterinarians to perform accredited duties, such as issuing certificates of veterinary inspection, for any animals. The other allows accredited work on animals such as cats and dogs, but not on food and fiber animal species, horses, birds, farm-raised aquatic animals, other livestock, or zoo animals that can transmit exotic animal diseases to livestock.

"It is important to note that the NVAP does not regulate general veterinary practice, but rather the performance of specific accredited duties; veterinarians who are not accredited may still provide general veterinary care to any animal," the USDA notice states.

Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA executive vice president, said the AVMA is pleased the regulation to update the NVAP has finally been published. He said the rule acknowledges the critical role of private practitioners in ensuring the health of animals and security of the nation's food supply.

"By having a two-tiered system, the new NVAP also recognizes the unique responsibilities of large animal veterinarians working with livestock, poultry, and horses while not placing an unnecessary burden on small animal practitioners," Dr. DeHaven said.

The Federal Register notice indicates changes in foreign animal diseases and their risks as well as changes in import and export requirements were considerations in changing the NVAP.

"Some U.S. trading partners have expressed concern regarding the fact that our veterinary accreditation program does not require supplemental training," the notice states. "Requiring training is necessary to increase the rigor of the program and thus address this concern."

Veterinarians accredited to work on any animal species will be required to complete about six hours of continuing education prior to renewing their accreditation every three years. Those who participate under the more restrictive category need to complete about three hours of continuing education in the same renewal period, and they will be able to change accreditation categories by fulfilling additional training requirements and submitting an application to the USDA-APHIS.

Dr. Lisa Sanford
Dr. Lisa Sanford and fellow veterinarians from Sterner Veterinary Clinic in Ionia, Mich., test a client's cattle for tuberculosis. Veterinarians will need to be able to properly perform testing for tuberculosis to become accredited in the top of two new tiers created by revisions to the National Veterinary Accreditation Program.

"The global environment as it relates to animal health is changing rapidly, and so it just makes sense to have a continuing education requirement to ensure that practitioners stay current with new or evolving requirements and disease programs," Dr. DeHaven said.

APHIS might count some relevant state-required continuing education toward the NVAP training requirements, and the agency is working with state veterinary licensing authorities to have the USDA's training accepted for fulfilling state continuing education requirements, the notice states.

"Iowa's veterinary licensing authority has already indicated that it will do so," the notice states. "We expect that we will be able to secure approval for use of the supplemental training to fulfill continuing education requirements in other states as well."

APHIS will make its training available online to veterinarians at no cost and will provide paper or CD copies for the cost of production, shipping, and handling. The Federal Register notice also indicated the agency intends to offer the training through veterinary medical association meetings.

Veterinarians will also need accreditation specialization for some APHIS disease program activities that require specific training and technical knowledge, the notice states. Specialization will require accreditation in the tier that allows APHIS work on all animals, and the cost of orientation or training could be borne by participating veterinarians.

The USDA started accrediting veterinarians in 1921 as a means for private practice veterinarians to help federal veterinarians control animal diseases. In 1992, APHIS replaced a state-by-state system with a national accreditation program that included standardized accreditation procedures and requirements.

In May 2002, members of the AVMA-USDA Relations Committee published in JAVMA a report, "New Directions for the National Veterinary Accreditation Program," which advocated a two-tiered accreditation system with required supplemental training, three-year renewals, and accreditation specialization.

A USDA official said at the 2004 AVMA Annual Convention that the accreditation program was being revised to include continuing education and specialization. Dr. Lawrence E. Miller, then program manager for the NVAP, said there were concerns about possible conflicts of interest for private practitioners and a lack of training requirements under the existing accreditation program.

The USDA published a draft of the changes in a Federal Register notice in June 2006, and the proposal was updated in February 2007. In corresponding comment periods, the agency received 38 comments from state agriculture departments, veterinary medical associations, universities, and individual veterinarians.

On July 15, 2006, the AVMA House of Delegates passed a resolution that urged APHIS to implement ongoing training programs for accredited veterinarians in the U.S. Dr. Bruce W. Little, then AVMA executive vice president, wrote in a letter to APHIS later that month that the agency's proposed rule met the intent of the AVMA resolution, and therefore, the AVMA supported the proposed rule.