Veterinarians are required to earn a DVM, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, to practice in the U.S., but certifications are voluntary. Veterinarians choose to add certifications when specializing in certain fields, such as avian medicine or orthopedic surgery. It's the equivalent of a human general doctor becoming certified in special fields.
As of 2015, the American Board of Veterinary Specialties, a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association, lists 22 recognized veterinary specialty groups covering 40 different specialties. At present, more than 11,000 veterinarians have certifications in one or more specialties and are members of the related organizations.
Certifications are issued based on the species treated. A veterinarian can specialize in dogs and cats, considered companion animals, or simply treat cats only. Exotic animal certification can be narrowed to focus on reptiles and amphibians, or pets including rodents and birds. Zoo veterinarians and those treating food animals all must have certification. Certification requires an additional exam and the submission of case reports showing experience in treating the specific species.
To earn the DVM, candidates must complete a bachelor's degree and four years of veterinary school, then take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. Depending on the state, an additional exam might be required. Some board certification fields, such as surgery, dentistry and ophthalmology, require additional education.