Veterinary Credentials – What Do All Those Letters Mean Anyway?

The Basics

Most Veterinarians in the USA have completed an undergraduate degree at a University or College before entering veterinary school.  Veterinary school itself is a 4-year program that includes 9-12 months of clinical rotations (or spending time with doctors and patients).  Upon graduation, a veterinarian receives either a DVM or a VMD.

DVM = Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (most veterinarians in the US are DVMs)

VMD = Veterinary Medical Doctorate (this is the same degree as a DVM but it means the veterinarian in question graduated from the University of Pennsylvania)

More Letters…

Veterinarians don’t need any more letters to practice medicine.  More letters means more degrees and more study.   Some veterinarians choose to do scientific research and may be granted an MS (Master of Science) or PhD (doctorate).  Or they may be certified by a specialty board and become a “Diplomate” of that board.

Veterinary Technicians

Even our assistants can get in on the action – Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVT) or Certified Veterinary Technicians (CVT) have completed extra schooling and passed their own examinations.  In California, only individuals with letters after their names can be called techs or technicians.


The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners certifies veterinarians in species specialties such as Avian (birds), Exotic Companion Mammal (rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs…) or Reptile/Amphibian (snakes, turtles, lizards…).  As of January 2013 there are 739 diplomates of the ABVP.  Of those, 114 certified in Avian medicine.  In the state of California there are only 22 Avian diplomates (as of February 2014).

American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
Other ways to say “Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Avian Practice” include: Dip ABVP, Avian Practice and DABVP (Avian).

How Does One Become Certified with the ABVP?

Before your veterinarian can apply, he or she has to have been in practice for a minimum of 6 years or have completed a 2 to 3 year residency. They have to have graduated from an AVMA-accredited veterinary college, have a minimum of 90 hours continuing education in the previous 5 years, see enough of the species (such as birds) each week to have gained experience, obtain 3 letters of recommendation from other boarded specialists and write 2 case reports.

Case reports are not simple write ups of some event.  They are in depth investigations into the current understanding of the disease in question, the methods of diagnosis, the available treatments and the likely outcome.  If the papers are deemed acceptable by the ABVP, the veterinarian in question must then study in order to pass a difficult 2 day written and practical examination.  It doesn’t end there – diplomates must maintain their certification and renew it every 10 years!

Other Specialists

There are many other specialists, aside from species specific ones, including anesthesiologists, dentists, cardiologists, behaviorists, zoo veterinarians and more.  In veterinary medicine only veterinarians who have been certified by a board or college may call themselves specialists!

For more information, take a look at the AVMA’s website.