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July 01, 2020

Testing delays put graduates in limbo

New veterinarians face examination scheduling issues amid pandemic-related closures
Published on June 10, 2020

Taking the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination already comes with enough anxiety for soon-to-be veterinarians. An added layer of stress has come for some recent graduates who report having difficulties finding nearby testing locations with available dates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Montanye's study notes
Dr. Mary Montanye, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, has been studying for the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination for over a year. She and others report having difficulties finding nearby testing locations with available dates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Dr. Montanye)

In March, when shelter-in-place orders became widespread across the U.S., Dr. Layna Tarpalechee rescheduled her date for taking the NAVLE. She rescheduled again as the pandemic continued into April and May. As of press time in late May, she didn’t have a testing date at all.

“Currently, it is all up in the air,” Dr. Tarpalechee, a recent graduate of Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said during an interview with JAVMA News in May. “We have been told to just keep checking the website, but that’s it.”

Some veterinary graduates who failed the NAVLE initially or waited until April to take the examination are facing scheduling issues. Some are concerned about their futures as potential job start dates near. Passing the NAVLE is required for a veterinarian to become a licensed practitioner.

Dr. Ashley Iadonisi graduated from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in May and was in the process of moving to Georgia soon after. She hasn’t been able to find any open testing slots near her new home, so she will likely look at surrounding states.

“The most disheartening thing about this is it is hard to stay focused,” Dr. Iadonisi said. “We’re all scrambling and trying to find a solution, and it is all falling on deaf ears.”

Dr. Iadonisi said she has repeatedly tried calling Prometric Testing Centers, the company that administers the NAVLE throughout the U.S. and Canada, but has not been able to reach anyone. She says the International Council for Veterinary Assessment, the organization that manages the NAVLE, has responded and been helpful, but the ICVA can’t control the testing centers.

Tom Warren, vice president of product line marketing for Prometric, said a limited number of testing centers have opened, but to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the number of available seats in each testing room has been reduced.

“We continue to evaluate options to increase appointment availability where we are open, including adding incremental days and hours of testing to support as many test takers as we can, under the circumstances,” Warren said. “Our priority will always be to ensure that individuals who appear for testing can have confidence in their personal safety and well-being while completing their assessments.”

Dr. Heather Case, CEO of the ICVA, said all organizations involved with the NAVLE are working together to assist with rescheduling.

“The ICVA is responding to candidates who have not yet been able to take the NAVLE due to Prometric testing center closures as a result of COVID-19,” she said.

The NAVLE is traditionally an in-person, proctored examination.

“Prometric Testing Centers allow the NAVLE to be globally administered in a secure, proctored environment,” Dr. Case said. “While delivery at veterinary schools may seem like a good solution, the NAVLE isn’t designed or published for web-based testing delivery. Updating NAVLE forms for WBT delivery would take a significant amount of time and resources, something that would take a longer time frame and doesn’t address the April 2020 testing window.”

The ICVA has extended the testing window for all current April NAVLE candidates to June 30. The ICVA has also provided candidates with an option to defer, at no additional fee, to the November-December 2020 testing window.

The AVMA and Student AVMA are working with the American Association of Veterinary State Boards and state VMAs to encourage state licensing boards to develop a plan to accommodate recent graduates facing licensure challenges, according to an AVMA press release.

Long-term worry

Dr. Mary Montanye, a 2020 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, has had eight different examination dates. She told JAVMA News in May that she was driving to Iowa to take the NAVLE because she couldn’t find an open slot in Wisconsin.

When Dr. Montanye does take the test, she will be facing a different environment that includes requirements that all test takers wear masks during the eight-hour examination, practice social distancing within the facility, and stay inside the building until the examination is complete.

She doesn’t blame anyone specifically for the test cancellations, but she is stressed.

“My place of work has been really nice and understanding, but it is super stressful because I don’t know if I will be able to be a practicing veterinarian when I start my job. This determines if I will have my career,” Dr. Montanye said.

She isn’t alone in that feeling. Dr. Iadonisi said she has been in contact with her clinic, which is letting her start as a veterinary technician until she can take the NAVLE.

“At least I can go to work and make some money,” she said.

A dream is a wish

Dr. Iadonisi said her dream solution would be for the ICVA to let students who failed within a certain margin pass the test retroactively. She failed by two points.

Dr. Case said, despite requests, it was not possible.

“We cannot change failing scores to passing scores as a way to mitigate testing constraints,” Dr. Case said. “The NAVLE passing score was determined through a rigorous process to help ensure that the NAVLE meets its obligations to licensing boards and the public.”

For now, all the graduates can do is keep studying. Most have spent the last year preparing for the examination.

Dr. Tarpalechee, who is going to work at a mixed animal practice in Oklahoma, will be able to work as a supervised veterinarian. She doesn’t enjoy still having to worry about passing the NAVLE, but she said, “I try not to be discouraged, and I try not to let it get to me.”