What is a Veterinarian Specialist?

We often hear about a specialist veterinarian, but what is the difference between your family veterinarian and a specialist?

As in human medicine, veterinarians can pursue a specialty after their general studies. Specialists provide very valuable help to general veterinarians, as they take over for more advanced diagnoses and treatments.


Three Main Steps to Become A Specialist

  1. Basic Training Required

To become a veterinarian, students must complete 5 years of study at one of the five universities in Canada that offer the program:

  • Université de Montréal
  • University of Guelph
  • University of Calgary
  • University of Prince Edward Island
  • University of Saskatchewan

These programs are highly restricted. Among the 700 applications for admission to the Université de Montréal alone, only 96 students are admitted each year.

After passing their NAVLE exam (North American Veterinary Licensing Examination) at the end of their five years of study, veterinarians can register to Ordre des Médecins Vétérinaires du Québec (OMVQ), which then issues their license to practice.


  1. Internships

Emergency and referral centres offer recent graduates the opportunity to complete a one-year internship. The selected candidates follow the various specialists and can thus perfect their skills while learning. It is the famous IPSAV that you find after your veterinarian’s signature. Only veterinarians who have completed an internship can work in an emergency and referral centre. If veterinarians want to focus on a specialty instead, they can also submit their application for a specialized internship, where they can perfect their knowledge in the specialty of their choice.


  1. Specialization

After their internship, some veterinarians want to continue their training in a particular specialty. They can then submit their application for their residency.

Here are the specialties recognized by the OMVQ:

  • Anesthesiology
  • Large animal surgery
  • Pet surgery
  • Dermatology
  • Medical imaging
  • Animal behaviour medicine
  • Laboratory animal medicine
  • Large animal internal medicine
  • Companion animal internal medicine
  • Zoological medicine
  • Microbiology
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Pathology
  • Clinical pathology
  • Theriogenology
  • Emergency and intensive care


What is the residency?

The residency takes place over a period of 3 to 4 years, depending on the candidate. The veterinarian assists the specialist and participates in the diagnosis and treatment of his patients. At the end of his residency, the veterinarian is submitted for an examination, commonly called "Board", which is awarded by the college of their specialty.

Here is the list of colleges in North America:

  • American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS)
  • American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) – This college offers the following specialties: neurology, internal medicine, oncology.
  • American College of Veterinary Ophthalmology (ACVO)
  • American College of Veterinary Radiology (ACVR)
  • American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC)
  • American College of Veterinary Dermatology (ACVD)
  • American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP)
  • American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB)
  • American College of Veterinary Microbiologists (ACVM)
  • American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA)
  • American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) – for exotic specialist practices
  • And others!

After passing the examination, the veterinarian is officially considered a specialist! He can then add his "letters" after his name, depending on the college where he graduated. For example, a specialist surgeon will add the letters ACVS after their name.

Specialist veterinarians usually work in emergency and referral centres or university centres. This is where they can benefit from state-of-the-art equipment to support their diagnoses.


Specialist or clinician?

Among veterinary jargon, we often find the term clinician. But what is the difference between a specialist and a clinician? A specialist has passed his board exam, while a clinician is not recognized by the OMVQ as a specialist, either because he did not pass his board exam, or because he did not do a residency. These clinicians can practice in a specialty if a specialist is available to support them. They can only take care of the follow-up of conditions already diagnosed, in collaboration with the specialist.


We are proud, at Vet et Nous, to be able to count on the expertise of many specialists and clinicians from different fields.