AVMA News

AVMA launches certificate program for first responders

April 20, 2022

Updated April 26, 2022

The AVMA started to release courses in mid-April as part of the Association’s new Veterinary First Responder Certificate Program, which is the nation’s first standardized training program for veterinary disaster and emergency planning and response.

“There is a lot of excitement in the animal disaster community for this program,” said Dr. Warren Hess, an assistant director in the AVMA Division of Animal and Public Health who is overseeing the program. “While it may take some time before there is a larger number of courses, the excitement comes from the fact that there is finally a standard for veterinary responders, and we look forward to it becoming a national standard.”

The AVMA Veterinary First Responder Certificate Program is designed to verify that veterinary professionals have been trained to respond efficiently and effectively to disasters by directing individuals to pre-evaluated courses that teach valuable disaster and emergency response material. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation provided $80,000 in funding to create the certificate program.

The program is available via AVMA Axon, the Association’s online platform for continuing education. An individual will need to take enough courses to satisfy all core competencies. There are eight core competencies—each with subcompetencies—that must be satisfied in order to gain certification.

Dog standing in a yard with disaster debris in background


The AVMA Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues continues to accept submissions from organizations to have their training courses approved to be part of the certificate program.

Three courses offered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Independent Study Program have been approved. Dr. Hess said, “These are not related to animals or veterinary medicine; they introduce responders to how incidents should be managed.”

The first two courses introduce the Incident Command System, which relates to local response and how it is structured, he explained. The third course introduces the National Incident Management System and how larger events involving federal resources are managed between local responders and federal agencies.

“It is important that veterinary responders understand the system under which they may be asked to function, how reporting and assignments are done,” Dr. Hess said. “This is learning how to play nicely in the sandbox.”

The AVMA Disaster Business Continuity Certificate Program is among coursework approved to be part of the new certificate program for veterinary first responders. The modules focus on planning for business survival during a disaster, developing a business continuity plan, and implementing the business continuity plan.

A course from the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team available to Texas A&M veterinary students also has been approved to be part of the AVMA Veterinary First Responder Certificate Program.

The team was established in 2009 as a deployable veterinary response team at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said Dr. Deb Zoran, a teaching and leadership member of the team and a professor at the veterinary college. Following the first major deployment, the team leadership recognized the need for education of future veterinarians in this field and developed a curriculum for a required two-week clinical rotation for fourth-year veterinary students in disaster preparedness and response.

The Texas A&M curriculum covers most of the core competencies in the AVMA certificate program during the rotation.

Dr. Zoran said the members of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team believe that veterinarians should have at least an awareness-level understanding of the Incident Command System and how to integrate into it, understand the importance of personal and practice preparedness, and be able to assist their community through preparedness or response activities that not only protect their practices but also provide for the health and welfare of animals impacted by a disaster.

“Disasters, whether they be large or small, will impact people and therefore animals,” Dr. Zoran said. “As veterinarians, it is critically important that we are effectively able to integrate into the system of disaster response—for the benefit of animals, for the benefit of their humans, for the protection of your practice and personnel, and for the safety and health of all of us.”

Check out the AVMA Veterinary First Responder Certificate Program website for more information or see the list of approved courses at AVMA Axon.

A version of this article appears in the May 2022 print issue of JAVMA.