What Do Vet Credentials Really Mean?

A veterinarian examines a French bulldog

What do the letters at the end of your veterinarian's name stand for? Why are some vets a DVM and some are a VMD? What in the world does it mean if your vet has even more letters after DVM/VMD? Believe it or not, the alphabet soup at the end of your vet's name really does hold meaning and importance.

Vet Credential Basics

The most common and straightforward way to becoming a licensed veterinarian is to complete four years of undergraduate schooling before completing four years of veterinary schooling. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) there are 30 accredited veterinary schools in the United States. Upon completion of vet school, a prospective veterinarian must pass their national board examinations as well as their state board examinations in order to be called a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, or DVM. If you happen to live in the state of Pennsylvania, upon passing your boards you earn the title Veterinary Medical Doctor, or VMD. A veterinarian must renew their license with their state's Veterinary Medical Licensing Board every two years. Each state has different requirements for renewal, but most require a specific amount of Continuing Education (CE) for renewal.

Within the realm of veterinary medicine there are areas that a veterinarian can specialize in. These veterinarian specialists are also called Diplomates of that area of specialty. Currently the AVMA recognizes 22 different veterinary specialist organizations with 41 distinct specialties. To become a Diplomat, a veterinarian must complete additional training in a specific aspect of veterinary medicine (not too dissimilar to a residency in human medicine) and then pass additional board testing.

Veterinarians vs. Veterinary Technicians and Assistants

When you bring your pet to the vet's office, you aren't just going to be seeing the vet. You will also be seeing the veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants that work there as well. The difference between technicians/assistants and veterinarians may be evident in the schooling and training required to become a veterinarian, but what are the differences between technicians and assistants? Believe it or not, there's a big difference.

A veterinary technician is someone that attends an AVMA recognized, two year program to earn an Associate's Degree. They then must pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam and then apply to be a licensed/credentialed/registered veterinary technician in their state through their state's Veterinary Medical Licensing Board. Each state has a different term for these technicians. They can either be Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVTs), Credentialed Veterinary Technicians (CVTs), or Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs). A veterinary technician's role in your vet hospital includes pet restraint during examination, taking x-rays, collecting and performing blood tests, monitoring hospitalized pets, preparing pets and instruments for surgery, and anesthetic administration and monitoring.

A veterinary assistant, on the other hand, is someone that gets on-the-job training. They have not attended an AVMA recognized school and are not licensed in their state. This does not mean they also don't play a vital role in the veterinary hospital. Veterinary assistants are trained to maintain a clean and safe hospital setting, restrain pets during examinations, make sure the hospital rooms and treatment areas are well stocked with supplies, assist veterinary technicians in taking x-rays and restraining pets for blood work and diagnostics. Currently, in Veterinary Medicine there is not title protection like there is in human medicine. So, although each state has clear regulations on what a veterinary assistant is allowed to do and what can only be performed by a veterinary technician, many veterinary hospitals will use the terms assistant and technician interchangeably. Likewise, many veterinary hospitals will train assistants to perform technician tasks.

Veterinary Technician Specialists

Just like with veterinarians, a veterinary technician can specialize in a specific aspect of veterinary medicine. Currently there are 11 different areas of specialty for veterinary technicians in things like clinical practice, emergency and critical care, anesthesia, dentistry, and even behavior. Each area has it's own requirements for qualifying for application. Once a veterinary technician's application to a specialist organization is approved, the veterinary technician must then pass another set of board examinations to be considered a Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS).

Regardless of the role a veterinary professional plays, be it veterinarian, veterinary technician, or veterinary assistant, each has worked hard to achieve their skill set and knowledge bade. Each also is vitally important in the role of your pet's veterinary care.