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Veterinary Services
Who or what is a veterinary specialist?
  1. A. Gardiner, BVM&S, CertSAS, MSc, PhD, MRCVS1,
  2. P. Lowe, OBE, AcSS2 and
  3. J. Armstrong, PhD2
  1. Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG
  2. Centre for Rural Economy, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Agriculture Building, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU
  1. e-mail: Andrew.Gardiner{at}

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The organisation of veterinary specialisation was described as ‘confusing and opaque’ by Philip Lowe in his 2009 report into veterinary expertise in food animal production. Here, Andrew Gardiner, Professor Lowe and Justin Armstrong contrast the situation in the medical field with that in veterinary medicine and argue that a coherent model of veterinary specialisation is vital to sustaining the profession's status and public good functions

WHO counts as a veterinary specialist? To a large extent, the answer depends on who is asking. To the client inquiring in general practice, it could be Mr A ‘who does most of our horse work’ or Ms B ‘who has a special interest in eyes’. To the vets in the same practice, it could be colleague C ‘who does all the bovine fertility work’ or colleague D ‘who has an RCVS certificate in dermatology’.

An experienced colleague in a neighbouring practice who has an RCVS certificate and an excellent local reputation and who spends most of his time taking orthopaedic referrals could also be considered a specialist. It could also be a vet with an RCVS or European diploma working in a single or multidisciplinary private referral centre; and it could be an academic clinician, with a diploma and a PhD, working in a veterinary school department.

From this diverse range of people, it is only the last two who are likely to be eligible for consideration as RCVS- or European-recognised specialists. The meaning and implications of this designation are, however, far from clear. The lack of functional differentiation of specialist veterinary roles is problematic, both for the profession itself and its public. As the Lowe report commented: ‘Recognised specialisms should provide a means to develop and provide complex and advanced treatments and services in line with customers’ priorities and needs. In principle, therefore, …

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