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Specialty organizations reshape training and examinations

By Katie Burns
Published on May 11, 2020

Veterinary specialty organizations are temporarily reshaping their certification programs for new diplomates to fit the changing dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Maureen Griffin in empty waiting room
Dr. Maureen Griffin, a surgical resident at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, stands in an empty waiting room at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. To earn board certification, she must do a specific number of certain types of surgery, but some of those are elective procedures. (Photo by Dr. Amy S. Kapatkin)

In an April 17 letter to representatives of specialty organizations, the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties stated that “training program requirements for credentialing must still be adhered to. Deadlines to fulfill the requirements can be extended but the training requirements cannot be waived. Note that, in some cases, requirements may be fulfilled by alternative methods.”

For example, the American College of Veterinary Radiology described how residents in diagnostic imaging have the ability to use old case material for training. According to the ACVR, “We can ask residents to go back into the hospital digital imaging files and dictate most of the cases made on that date (e.g., March 27, 2011). One advantage is that we may have known diagnoses on many of these cases because they occurred in the past.”

The ABVS letter also stated, “As always, certification requires examination of individuals; however, the date and time of such examination can be altered, and the method of delivery may be modified.”

The ACVR purchased video proctoring software to offer the preliminary examination for diagnostic imaging remotely if the college cannot hold the examination in person during the last week of August in Las Vegas.

Dr. John Sanders is chair of the ABVS and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine who works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in West Virginia. He said he could see veterinary specialty organizations extending deadlines by six months to a year—and potentially 18 months if the COVID-19 pandemic follows the worst-case scenario.

In terms of continuing clinical training, Dr. Sanders said, people have been talking about telemedicine for years, and telemedicine could potentially be used to fulfill some residency training requirements. Clinical pathology, for example, involves interpretation of data or an image that can be shared virtually. He said, “We are asking colleges to consider what can be done under the current conditions.”

Dr. Amy S. Kapatkin, an ABVS member and professor of small animal orthopedic surgery at the University of California-Davis, said the American College of Veterinary Surgeons switched to a remotely proctored version of its first-phase examination, which is a multiple-choice test usually given at testing centers. The ACVS postponed the examination from April 6 to May 29.

“Seminars, rounds, radiology rotations—even things like clinical pathology rotations that the surgery residents do—can be done virtually and have been,” Dr. Kapatkin said. “Since we are considered essential personnel and we have plenty of surgical emergencies, I think most programs are able to hit the minimum requirements for their residents as far as number of surgeries per week. The challenge in surgery is that we have specific numbers needed for specific types of surgery, and some of these are elective procedures.”

At the UC-Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, surgeons and surgical residents also are doing telemedicine appointments for all recheck examinations not considered critical, she said.

On May 15, the ABVS will meet virtually to review plans by all 22 veterinary specialty organizations to ensure continuance of training programs and examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The ABVS was really motivated to solicit and review modifications that the specialty colleges were proposing to proactively identify and hopefully correct issues that might negatively affect ABVS recognition before they happened, rather than potentially having to react with an adverse decision at a later date,” said Dr. Ed Murphey, AVMA staff consultant to the ABVS.