Peering Through the Mist of Veterinary Qualifications

Unfortunately the veterinary referral market in the UK is almost completely unregulated. This means that any vet can set up a referral service and claim to be a specialist (they cannot however use the terms Specialist or Recognised Specialist). I am sure many people have noticed that vets (and many other professionals) often have a line of letters after their names that represent their individual qualifications. These are important indicators of experience and knowledge and may help you decide who is best placed to treat your animal. Unfortunately the use of these postnomials can often form a misleading smoke-screen that can be used to imply particular knowledge or skill that may not necessarily have been assessed. Please remember that having more letters after your name does not necessarily mean better qualified!

We firmly believe that where people are offering a service that is considered by the client to be specialised (this includes any referral service), that the vets who are providing the service should have undertaken sufficient specialist training, and should have passed or be working towards the appropriate specialist level examinations. The following is a brief guide through the minefield of veterinary qualifications.


This stands for 'Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' and means that the holder has passed an approved veterinary degree. Membership of the RCVS is a legal requirement for anyone to practice as a vet. Often people will also list their degrees separately which may appear as BVM&S, BVMS, BVSc, MAVetMB or BVetMed depending on which university was attended.

Further Qualifications

Following graduation, Vets may choose to study for further qualifications in particular areas of interest to them.


The first level of qualification is called a Certificate and may be awarded in many subjects including Small Animal Surgery (Cert SAS), Veterinary Ophthalmology (Cert VOpth), Small Animal Medicine (Cert SAM) etc. The purpose of the Certificate is to promote further study within first opinion practice. These qualifications indicate that the holder is competent in a particular subject when assessed at the level of a general practitioner. It is important to realise that obtaining a certificate qualification may be a useful part of the journey towards specialisation, but it does not involve assessment to the level of a specialist. Indeed a certificate can be taken without any supervision or training from a specialist at all! Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, largely financial, some Certificate holders almost fraudulently (or at least naively) portray their Certificate to indicate that they are capable of undertaking referral work and are as capable or as knowledgeable as a specialist. This is not necessarily the case. To further confuse the matter, there are a number of certificate qualifications proposed that are not recognised by the RCVS which may be listed as GP certificates (e.g. GP Cert SAS).

Advanced Practitioners

Recently the RCVS has tried to simplify the understanding of veterinary specialisation by creating the title of Advanced Practitioner. Vets who are on the list of advanced practitioners must hold a certificate level qualification and participate in more continuing professional development each year than a normal veterinary surgeon. Being an advanced practitioner does not indicate specialist knowledge or allow the use of the term 'Recognised Specialist'

Internships and Residency Training

Often vets may wish to learn more from experienced colleagues and vets may undertake internships or residencies.

An internship is usually a one year post for relatively inexperienced vets who aim to gain a basic grounding in a particular subject. Typically interns rotate around the departments in a hospital and are involved with the day to day care of cases in the hospital. Interns generally observe treatments being performed by more experienced colleagues but do not generally perform complex procedures.

More experienced vets may choose to undertake a residency. Competition to be chosen for a residency position is fierce and these posts typically last for three years. During this time the resident will be involved with the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of clinical cases including performing surgery under the strict supervision of a specialist. Clinical research is often undertaken during a residency, again under the supervision of their mentors This novel research is often needed to proceed to the next stage of qualifications. On satisfactory completion of a residency the candidate may be considered to be 'board eligible', meaning that they are able to proceed to sit the Diploma examination. We have decided that Kentdale will only consider employing a Veterinary Surgeon when they are board eligible and likely to pass the Diploma examination. Only by doing so can we ensure the very highest standard of expertise within our practice.


The diploma is the highest level of qualification available and indicates that the holder has attained a high standard of academic and clinical expertise in their chosen subject. It is not possible to sit the diploma examination without having served a suitable period of time under the direct supervision of a specialist. Many diplomas have additional requirements that may include the publication of groundbreaking clinical research or the production or a very detailed dissertation. The diploma is recognised as being the appropriate standard to indicate expertise to the level of a specialist. Diplomas are available in many subjects however the RCVS Diploma in Small Animal Surgery (Orthopaedics) remains the only diploma level qualification solely in orthopaedics available in the world. The qualification is unique in that it requires knowledge of comparative orthopaedics (ie all species including man). Diplomas are abbreviated with a prefix starting with 'D' such as DSAS (Orth) which stands for the Diploma in Small Animal Surgery (Orthopaedics). When an RCVS Diploma is awarded the RCVS direct the holder not to use their relevant certificate postnomial as it is assumed that this has been superseded. RCVS recognised Diploma-level qualifications are also awarded by European Specialist Colleges following the completion of a three year approved residency training program and qualifying examination. The appropriate European Diploma for companion animal surgical specialism is the Diploma from the European College of Veterinary Surgery (abbreviated to DipECVS). For more information see

Recognised Specialists

The RCVS maintains a list of recognised specialists in each subject area. Admission to this list is strictly controlled by the RCVS and requires a relevant diploma and strong references from other specialists in addition to sufficient points being earned for publications, lectures, teaching etc. Revalidation of recognised specialist status is usually needed every five years. Unless a vet is on the list, they cannot claim to be a recognised specialist. Both Simon Roch and Graham Hayes are listed on the recognised specialist list that can be viewed at

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