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It’s normal to be curious about the role of a veterinary specialist in your pet’s care, and what makes a specialist different from a primary care veterinarian. Here are some common questions and answers about veterinary specialists and specialty medicine:

What is a specialist?

In order to become a veterinarian, a student must complete four years of college, four years of vet school, and pass an exam called the NAVLE (North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, also known as the veterinary board exam).

Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine does not require additional training beyond this point in order to practice. Therefore, the majority of veterinarians graduate from veterinary school and enter primary care practice. A smaller percentage of veterinary graduates elect to further their training with a rigorous 1-year internship. If selected, an additional smaller percentage go on to complete a 3-year residency in their specialized field of interest.

Completing a residency and becoming a board-certified veterinary specialist also involves conducting research and/or publishing in a scientific journal, teaching veterinary students and veterinary interns, and passing a series of additional specialized board exams. The precise requirements vary based on the particular specialty. Once board-certified, a veterinary specialist is known as a Diplomate in their specialized field. IVC has two ACVIM Diplomates (Dr. Weigand and Dr. MaloneyHuss), and one ACVECC Diplomate (Dr. Mueller).

What is an ACVIM Diplomate?

ACVIM Diplomates are Board-certified veterinary specialists who have received advanced training in one or more of the six ACVIM specialties: cardiology, large animal internal medicine, neurology, nutrition, oncology and small animal internal medicine. To become board-certified, Diplomates must have completed four years of veterinary college, a one-year internship or equivalent, and two to three years in a recognized residency program. There are additional training and caseload requirements that must be met during residency. In addition, candidates must pass a series of rigorous examinations to become an ACVIM Diplomate.

What is an ACVECC Diplomate?

An ACVECC specialist is a specialist in the field of emergency and critical care. Emergency and critical care residencies focus on working in the emergency room and intensive care unit. Veterinary residencies in emergency and critical care focus on triage, stabilization, life-saving procedures, and learning the most up-to-date techniques for diagnosing and treating the critically ill or emergent patient. Once the veterinarian has completed three years of specialized training – along with publication in a peer-reviewed, scientific veterinary research journal – they must pass a rigorous, two-day board-certification examination administered by ACVECC. Upon successful completion of these two tasks, the veterinary resident becomes a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care (ACVECC).  

Can a specialist replace my primary care veterinarian?

Absolutely not! Your pet’s primary care veterinarian is a key member of your pet’s healthcare team, and oversees your pet’s wellness care for their entire life. Primary care veterinarians build a wealth of wellness and preventative medicine knowledge that most specialists do not have, since specialists focus their training on their area of specialization. If your pet has an illness or condition that requires specialty care, the specialist who sees your pet will partner with your primary care veterinarian in order to ensure that all aspects of your pet’s health are covered.