How do I Become a Veterinary Specialist?

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  • Written By: Vicki Hogue-Davies
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2019
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A veterinary specialist is a licensed veterinarian with additional training either in a specific area of animal medicine or with a specific species of animal. In the United States, there are 20 specialty organizations recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association, including those for specialists in radiology, pathology, emergency medicine and other areas. To become a veterinary specialist, completion of veterinary school is required, followed by further study and usually internships and residencies in the specialty area. Examinations to achieve board certification in the specialty area also normally are required.

Gaining acceptance into veterinary school can be difficult. Exhibiting a high level of achievement in pre-veterinary courses and other courses during your undergraduate study will help you become accepted to a school and, ultimately, to become a veterinary specialist. Interning, volunteering or working with animals in a job, such as that of a veterinary assistant or aide, can help put you in front of the competition as you seek admission to a school. Letters of recommendation from professors and job supervisors also are expected as part of the admissions process, and most veterinary schools require admissions tests.


During veterinary school, you can get experience in different specialty areas by performing externships. Externships typically are short programs that will give you some experience in the specialty profession and help you decide in which area you wish to become a veterinary specialist. If you are interested in working with non-domestic animals, for example, you can gain experience by applying for externships at zoos and other facilities that have wild animal collections.

After you have completed veterinary school, taken your board exams and become licensed as a doctor of veterinary medicine, you have a couple of options in order to become a veterinary specialist. You can either go into practice and get some experience as a veterinarian or apply to a veterinary specialty program right away. Requirements for admission into veterinary specialty programs will vary, but strong grades in veterinary school and prior experience in the specialty area or with the animal species generally are required.

Specialty veterinary education usually involves completing a rigorous residency training program that has been approved by the governing specialty organization. Requirements and length of training varies between specialty programs. After training is completed, credentialing might involve peer reviews of your published research works, your résumé and background, your letters of recommendation and other items, followed by board testing. After you have successfully completed your board testing, you will be recognized as a specialist in your veterinary discipline.


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