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Answers from vets about your pet:

What is a Veterinary Specialist?

Posted September 30, 2013 in My Dog's Veterinarian

Dr. Justine Lee explains veterinary specialists. For more from Dr. Lee, find her on Facebook!

I often get asked what that “alphabet soup” behind my name is. More importantly, as a pet owner, why should you care?

Those extra letters behind a veterinarian’s name means that they are a veterinary specialist (e.g., Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT). These letters stand for something – for me, it’s “Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care” (DACVECC) and “Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology” (DABT). So, what does that mean? It means we went through a whole lot of extra advanced training to become an elite expert in the field. (I’m extra-geeky and am double-boarded.)  

In the United States, there are appropriately 90,000 veterinarians, with approximately 11,000 of them being specialists. So, what’s the difference between a veterinarian and a veterinary specialist? Veterinary specialists have advanced training beyond veterinary school – it’s someone who has gone on to complete secondary training through a rigorous internship and further training in a residency or fellowship (typically 2-4 additional years). In order to be board-certified following your residency, you have to publish a scientific research paper (in a peer-reviewed, scientific, accredited research journal) and pass an intense 2-3 day exam (similar to a lawyer’s bar exam). So, not easy at all!

Right now, there are numerous medically-related veterinary specialties including:

  • Anesthesiology and Analgesia (DACVA)
  • Behavior (DACVB)
  • Cardiology (DACVIM – Cardiology)
  • Dentistry (ADVC)
  • Dermatology  (DACVD)
  • Emergency critical care (DAVECC)
  • Internal medicine (DACVIM – Internal Medicine)
  • Neurology (DACVIM – Neurology)
  • Nutrition (ACVN)
  • Ophthalmology (DAVCO)
  • Pathology (DACVP)
  • Radiology (DACVR)
  • Surgery (DACVS)
  • Wildlife/zoo medicine (DACZM)
  • Veterinary Practitioners (DABVP)

That said, more recent “specialties” have been popping up, some less “rigorous” than others (e.g., some not even requiring additional training nor a publication). I worry about where this is going, so don’t be deceived when you see alphabet soup behind your veterinarian’s name.  When in doubt, look for the initials starting with “American College" and ask your veterinarian for advice or how to find the best specialist who fits your needs… or more importantly, your pet’s needs.

For routine care, you’re in better hands with your family veterinarian (after all, I haven’t spayed anything in years!). However, if your pet is really sick, a veterinary specialist may be the best option for the care for your pet. Specialists typically see referral cases that may are more

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.