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Veterinarian Certification and License Information

Veterinarian certifications are generally optional credentials that can demonstrate specialized competence in the field of veterinary medicine after completion of required degrees and mandatory licensing. Continue reading for an overview of the requirements for a license and certification, as well as job growth and salary info for veterinarians.

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Veterinarians require a state license, and sometimes need additional licenses or continuing education, depending on the state where they practice. Voluntary certification is available in this field, to highlight a specialty or type of medicine practiced.

Essential Information

In order to practice as a veterinarian, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree is needed in addition to achieving a bachelor's degree. Certifications are not mandatory, but a license must be obtained by passing a state board examination. Some states mandate additional license requirements specific to state laws. License renewals may require continuing education. Areas of expertise in veterinary medicine include livestock, pets and research and development.

Education Bachelor's degree; Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree
Other Requirements license; optional certification
Specializations pets; livestock; research and development
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% increase (all veterinarians)*
Median Salary (2015) $88,490 (all veterinarians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Certification Information for Veterinarians

Certification is not a legal necessity to practice as a veterinarian. Instead, it is a voluntary credential that veterinarians can seek in order to highlight their specialty knowledge in a subfield of veterinary practice. The American Veterinary Medical Association (www.avma.org) created the American Board of Veterinary Specialties in order to regulate the various organizations that confer certification on veterinarians. Certified veterinarians may call themselves 'Diplomate of' or 'Board Certified by' their organization.

American Board of Veterinary Practitioners Certification

The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (www.abvp.com) certifies veterinarians who specialize in any of ten different species groups. Companion animal certification sets include dogs and cats; cats alone; amphibians and reptiles; exotic pet mammals, like hamsters or ferrets; and birds. Besides a broad food animal category, the ABVP also offers certification in the care of beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine (pigs) or horses. Candidate veterinarians must present a practice description showing how often they care for the target species, as well as taking an exam and submitting written case reports that demonstrate their medical judgment.

Additional Certifications

Three more veterinary certification organizations oriented to patient type include the American College of Poultry Veterinarians, the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine and the American College of Zoological Medicine. Other certification groups address the sort of medicine practiced rather than the species of the patient, which may require specialized training. Examples include the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, the American Veterinary Dental College, the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. While these groups are called 'colleges', they are not educational institutions, but professional organizations.

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License Information

Someone who wants to become a veterinarian must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). This is a 4-year degree, typically earned after completing the bachelor's degree. A veterinary knowledge examination is also required for veterinary licensure. The current licensure exam for vets is the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), organized by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (www.nbvme.org).

Licensing Exam

When applying to take the NAVLE, veterinary school seniors or graduates must also apply for licensure with their state veterinary board. Permission to take the test will not be issued until the state board confirms the candidate's educational eligibility. States differ in their rules about where to send the applications; candidates will need to check with their state boards. The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination lasts six and a half hours plus a 15-minute orientation and a 45-minute break, and totals 360 questions, all multiple-choice.

State Boards' License Rules

Many states have additional requirements for a veterinary license. One common requirement is a state-specific exam that covers the laws governing veterinarians in that state. Some states issue full licenses only after the new veterinarian has some hands-on clinical experience. With the initial application, the vet receives an intern permit and must practice under supervision of a fully licensed veterinarian.

Each state veterinary board may set its own rules for allowing transfer of veterinarian licenses from other states. Vet license renewal may require continuing education.

Licenses for Foreign Veterinarians

The American Veterinary Medical Association includes the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates, which helps veterinary school graduates from other countries gain U.S. licensure. Candidates must complete both a multiple-choice veterinary science exam and a clinical skills practical test. They also need to prove their English proficiency.

Veterinarians need a bachelor's and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, and depending on where they practice, more than one state license, which sometimes requires clinical experience and continuing education. Voluntary certification is available to highlight a specialty, such as work with specific species groups or the type of medicine practiced, and licensure is available to foreign-educated veterinarians. Job openings for all veterinarians are expected to increase by 9% from 2014 through 2024.

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