Reproductive Specialists

Is your best mare still not pregnant after three breedings? Is the stallion from whom you ship semen dropping off in fertility? Would you like to know about embryo transfer for your great cutting mare in order to keep her in competition? You might need to consult a theriogenologist! (Don't let the name stop you--that's just another name for veterinary reproduction specialist. It was coined from the Greek words for "animal" and "reproduction.")

The American College of Theriogenologists (ACT) is the certifying body for specialists in animal reproduction, including all species of domestic and wild animals. It operates under the watchful eye of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which is responsible for conferring the specialty title.

The advanced training necessary to justify Diplomate status of the ACT begins with a veterinary degree, then at least a year of clinical experience, followed by postgraduate training in a two-year residency in reproduction at one of the recognized schools of veterinary medicine, supervison of study, and literature review under the guidance of a Diplomate. An alternative route for certification allows a candidate to bypass the residency requirement. Candidates with at least six years of practice with a major emphasis in theriogenology and a pre-approved study and mentorship program are eligible. This alternative route has resulted in the attraction of many highly qualified practitioners to the ranks.

Both types of candidates are then subject to an in-depth examination, including written and practical components.

After successfully passing this examination phase, the candidates are awarded the title of Diplomate ACT, which entitles the veterinarian to use the term "specialist."

Veterinary Specialization

The technical information explosion over the past 50 years has moved the knowledge base of all medical and related sciences forward at enormous speed. And the rate of that expansion continues to increase. For veterinary medicine--a profession long noted for general solo practices and broad levels of expertise--the changes led to painful realizations of the limited "in-depth" scope of generalists.

So, as in the other medical arenas, veterinarians began focusing on narrower levels of interest, with greater levels of skills needed to satisfy their clientele. Groups with similar interests gathered to compare experiences and share knowledge. And, following the lead of the medical professions, specialization under various "Colleges" of veterinarians began. The concept grew rapidly, as specialty colleges developed certification programs and appropriate oversight by the AVMA.

Today, there are 18 recognized specialty colleges. Some have sub-specialties involved, such as the College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, which includes subspecialties in cardiology, large animal internal medicine, neurology, oncology, and small animal internal medicine.

The ACT recognizes over 300 Diplomates, with a wide distribution as to species specialty. Some of them are primary care veterinarians, and many do consultations.

Finding a Diplomate

Sometimes your regular veterinarian will consult with a specialist on a particular problem with your horse's health. If you want to consult with a specialist, your veterinarian can help you locate one through personal knowledge or the AVMA directory. You need to involve your regular attending veterinarian in the consultation, as you are not implying that he or she isn't valuable to your operation, but you feel it important to gain an opinion from a "specialist." Keep the lines of communication open with your regular veterinarian. After all, the specialist isn't going to be around when you have that emergency colic some night.

About the Author

A.C. Asbury, DVM

A. C. (Woody) Asbury received his DVM from Michigan State University in 1956, then spent 21 years in California in breeding farm practice and at UC Davis. He joined the faculty at the University of Florida in 1977 and was involved in teaching, research, and administration until 1996. An Emeritus Professor at Florida, he lives in Kentucky, where he and his wife are developing a small farm.

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