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What is a Veterinary Specialist?

By M. D. Koval
Updated May 17, 2024
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A veterinary specialist is a veterinarian who specializes in a specific area of medicine, species, or surgery. In addition to successfully completing graduate school, a veterinary specialist must undergo extensive post graduate training, obtain sufficient experience, and publish a case study. Other requirements include passing a credential review, passing examinations, and become board certified by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS).

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes more than 20 specialties, including emergency care, surgery, anesthesiology, canine and feline practice, and pet medicines. A veterinary specialist has the option of pursuing board certification either through a residency program at a university or a board-approved private specialty animal hospital. The time it takes to achieve certification varies with each individual and depends upon the area of focus, but typically takes a minimum of two years.

Most veterinary specialists do not provide basic pet care, such as wellness exams and immunizations; rather, they focus instead on their specific area of specialty. They are responsible for diagnosing special conditions and treating animals accordingly. Often, they work in conjunction with the animal’s general practice veterinarian team.

One of the most familiar areas of practice is emergency care. Veterinarians who specialize in this area are required to have the ability to make immediate decisions and take quick action when necessary to prevent death or further disability. These specialists provide immediate evaluation, care, and stabilization in response to illness and injury.

Veterinarians who specialize in anesthesiology provide the appropriate type of anesthesia, such as general anesthesia, local anesthesia, or sedation, to an animal during surgery. They monitor the animal’s vital life signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing pattern, and body temperature. In order to perform this task, a veterinary anesthesiologist must constantly monitor and assess these vital signs during a surgical procedure.

Most veterinary specialists employ a team of technicians and assistants to help in medical testing, procedures, and general care. Veterinary technicians carry out duties within an area of specialty under the supervision of the veterinary specialist. Their responsibilities include performing medical tests, helping to diagnose and treat medical conditions, taking and reading x-rays, and providing specialized nursing care.

Veterinary technicians typically complete two to four years of a veterinary technology program and must pass a state exam. They also help with the general care of the animals in the custody of the specialist. Unlike veterinarians and technicians, there are no formal education requirements for assistants. Their responsibilities include providing post-operative care, administering medication, and preparing lab samples.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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