Dear Doctor: Meaning of ‘board-certified’
Q I am a long-time subscriber who enjoys the publication very much. I feel that the information has helped me to take better care of the cats who live with us (at present time, we have four cats).
My question is this: What exactly does “board-certified” mean, and how does a veterinarian achieve that qualification?
Mrs. Linda Dixon
A Dear Linda: Good question. “Board certified” means that following veterinary school, a veterinarian has completed advanced training in a specialty area and has passed a rigorous examination in that specialty. In general, the first step of the advanced training is a one-year “rotating” internship. Internships are generally done under the supervision of specialists at either teaching hospitals or referral hospitals.
The term “rotating” means that the internship provides exposure to multiple specialties — the veterinarian rotates through the hospital’s various specialties, spending several weeks in each one. The second step in advanced training is a residency, which is typically a three-year training program — also at a teaching or referral hospital — during which the veterinarian receives extensive training in his or her chosen specialty area.
Following this, the veterinarian takes an examination administered by the specialty “college” — which is not a college in the conventional sense, but is an organization of veterinarians trained in a given specialty. Once the veterinarian has passed the examination, she is officially “board certified,” and is legally entitled to call herself a specialist. Some examples of specialties are internal medicine, surgery, ophthalmology and neurology, but there are many others.
Obtaining advanced training and board certification is completely optional, and competition for positions in internship and residency programs is intense. Many veterinarians elect to go directly into primary care practice following veterinary school, and primary care veterinarians and specialists collaborate to provide care for individual patients.
John Berg, DVM, DACVS
Professor of Small Animal Surgery
Cummings School of Veterinary
Medicine at Tufts University