Board certification – two words that bring both fear and excitement to the mind of any veterinary intern or resident. Can I achieve it? Will I pass the test? What happens if I fail? These are the questions that any veterinarian in an internship or residency training program, ultimately preparing to take board-certification examinations, wonders about as they slog through the endless number of hours that typically accompany these programs. Will it all be worth it?
My answer is – yes and no. Yes, on the one hand, in that achieving board certification is a prerequisite to specializing in a particular field of veterinary medicine. Whether it is avian medicine (my specialty), surgery, internal medicine, dentistry, zoo medicine, ophthalmology, or any number of other fields, a veterinarian cannot call him- or herself a specialist without passing that certification test. Certainly, many veterinarians and their pet-owning clients consider the attainment of board-certification (typically referred to as Diplomate status) the pinnacle of success in veterinary medicine. With this success typically comes many advantages, including a higher a higher salary, more generous benefits, and tremendous respect from veterinary colleagues.
On the other hand, the achievement of board certification does not come without a price. Hundreds of hours of study, numerous missed events with friends and family, plus hefty bills for study materials, test-taking fees, and travel to the examination, are all obstacles that veterinarians studying for boards typically face. And of course, there is the issue of minimal wages earned by veterinary interns and residents during their training periods. The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), which certifies veterinarians in in avian medicine, exotic mammal medicine, and reptile and amphibian medicine, offer veterinarians who have been in clinical practice for at least five years the opportunity to take specialty boards without completing a residency program. Regardless of whether an applicant pursues the residency tract or 5-year clinical practice tract to sit for specialty boards, the ABVP requires that applicants either write two case reports in a specific ABVP format or one ABVP-formatted case report plus one published paper. The ABVP-formatted papers must be reviewed, critiqued, and accepted by other diplomates in the specific specialty field the applicant is pursuing before the applicant is permitted to sit for the specialty board examination.
Even if ABVP-board certified veterinarians pass their board examinations once, they must recertify specialty credentials every 10 years to be able to continue to call themselves specialists. Every 10 years, ABVP specialists must either retake and pass their specialty boards again or accumulate a certain number of points through a combination of lecturing, publishing, editing, and writing examination questions in their specialty field. If ABVP-certified specialists do not successfully pass this re-credentialing process, either by retaking and passing their board examinations or attaining a sufficient number of points, in three attempts, between 8 and 10 years after their last successful recredentialing, they can longer call themselves ABVP board certified specialists. This process is complicated, arduous, and daunting, regardless of the method chosen to obtain recertification.
The bottom line is that attaining board-certification is very hard for a veterinarian, no matter what the specialty field. It takes years of hard work, patience, and perseverance. There certainly have been times over my career (especially when I was recertifying for the third time) that I have questioned whether it is all worth it. Yet, when a family travels hundreds of miles with their dying bird to see me, and I, as one of approximately 150 board certified avian veterinarians who has been forced to learn everything about birds, from hummingbirds to ostriches, am able to save their pet, I know that I have made the right choice.