Questions prerequisite for certification by new specialty organization
Recently, some distinguished veterinarians petitioned the AVMA's American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS) to recognize the American College of Animal Welfare (ACAW) as a new veterinary specialty organization. The public comment period is currently open.1 Most veterinarians would probably have little interest in commenting on a new specialty and even less interest in the new specialty's proposed rules. In this case, however, there is an issue that might concern the entire profession, and we believe that all veterinarians should be aware of this issue.
The ACAW proposal would require that applicants for certification sign a statement agreeing with the AVMA's Animal Welfare Principles.2 To our knowledge, no other veterinary specialty has a similar prerequisite, and we believe that setting such a requirement for board certification is an issue worthy of discussion by the general veterinary population. We hope our letter will initiate such a discussion.
The purpose of veterinary specialty organizations is to assess the competency of candidates for certification as specialists. We believe, therefore, that there should be no prerequisite for board certification that serves a purpose other than assessing the competency of candidates. An organization cannot claim to be knowledge-based if it disqualifies competent candidates because of their personal beliefs. Thus, we question the rationale behind this sign-off provision.
In addition, we believe a dangerous precedent would be set by allowing the ACAW to require applicants to agree with a particular official position. Doing so opens the door for any recognized specialty to impose philosophical requirements on its members and to change such requirements at will. The ABVS would have to become the arbiter of which beliefs were reasonable, and individual veterinarians desiring board certification would lose control over their own personal beliefs. Specialty boards would become philosophical, rather than knowledge-based, organizations.
As an admittedly unlikely example, suppose a newly approved ACAW decided to implement a requirement that its members had to agree to be vegans. The ABVS could, should, and probably would withdraw its recognition of the organization because the ACAW would then be a philosophical, rather than just a knowledge-based, organization. In the same way, requiring candidates to sign a statement agreeing with the AVMA's Animal Welfare Principles makes the proposed ACAW a philosophical, rather than a knowledge-based, organization. Therefore, the ABVS should not approve the ACAW's petition unless the sign-off requirement is eliminated.
We do believe it is critically important for an ACAW to be approved. However, we also believe that approval of the current ACAW proposal must be contingent on removing the sign-off requirement. No veterinarian should have to give up control over his or her personal beliefs to become board certified.
For those who are interested in providing comments to the ABVS, instructions are in the April 15, 2010, issue of JAVMA.1 The easiest way to comment is by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
I was delighted to see artist Wes Siegrist's painting on the cover of the August 15, 2010, issue of JAVMA. Unfortunately, the animals depicted in the picture are harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), not sea lions as stated in the “About the Cover.” Although California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) and harbor seals are sympatric in California, they are morphologically distinct, with harbor seals lacking the external ear pinnae and long and flexible front flippers of sea lions.