Public Health Veterinarian: The Looming Hurdle Ahead!


Have you noticed that things have been kind of slow over here at the Uncommon Veterinarian recently? Maybe you’ve been thinking, “Well, that was fun while it lasted, but I guess that Elliott guy wasn’t as committed he thought.”

Have no fear! I’m still alive and well, and I’m just as excited to continue sharing information and inspiration over the months and years ahead.

So what’s with the virtual silence here at the ol’ blog and on the podcast? Well to be honest, a few things have been conspiring against me.

Elliott-Garber-with-babyFirst, my dear little two-month-old son has decided to be a generally grumpy baby who doesn’t like falling asleep. Alas.

Second, thanks to the inefficiencies of Italian bureaucracy, we’ve been without a high-speed internet connection at home for over two months. There go those Skype video interviews!

And finally, the topic at hand. I’m studying again. Yes, I thought that maybe those days were over when I was preparing for the NAVLE while also writing my masters thesis as a fourth year vet student. But no, I’m a sucker for punishment, and so I’m at it again.

The American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine

ACVPM_logoI am planning to take the board certification exam to become a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine (ACVPM). The exam is a two day affair from June 12-13 at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

That’s a long way from Sicily, right? And sadly, due to our government’s current financial situation, the Army isn’t going to pay for my travel there.

So why am I taking on this heavy cost, both in dollars (the exam itself costs $525 to take!), but more importantly, in time?

It all comes back to those same dollars. The Army will pay me an extra $6000 per year if I can successfully pass the exam and become a board-certified specialist. If I get out of the Army and end up working for the federal government in some other capacity (CDC, NIH, USAID, etc), I will also likely get a similar bump in pay for having this specialization.

But in reality, I also want to be a recognized expert in the field. My MPH and MS degrees are nice, and they will help qualify me for some unique opportunities that the DVM alone might not, but this board certification is just one more credential that will help future employers or clients take me seriously.

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s all fine and good, but isn’t that a pretty obscure specialization?” Admittedly, it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as surgery, anesthesia, zoo medicine, or any of the others we’re more used to hearing about. I mean, what am I supposed to call myself if I pass? A preventive medicine veterinarian? A public health vet?

Yes, I get it, and I agree. But it’s hard to argue with $6000 a year and the recognized credibility that board-certification of any kind brings with it.

The Application

Unfortunately for all of us, tedious applications do not end after we get into vet school. This one was especially tough for me, because I had to do it twice. I first applied to take the exam back in the fall of 2010. I thought that my two years of “qualifying experience” along with the relevant MPH and MS degrees would qualify me to sit for the exam, but the qualifications committee did not agree.

They’ve since updated the organization’s bylaws to very specifically state that candidates must have a minimum of four years of post-DVM qualifying experience before they will be eligible to take the exam. This qualifying experience can be on-the-job (Army veterinary work usually counts), in a degree program, or in a residency program like the one at the University of Minnesota.

So I had to reapply this past fall. This involved filling out detailed questions about my preventive medicine experience (what percentage of my time did I spend performing epidemiological studies over the last four years??), seeking updated letters of recommendation, and asking an ACVPM diplomate to sponsor my application (my deputy commander).

I still wasn’t sure if I would be successful this time around because of the vagaries in the “qualifying experience” concept, so I was pleasantly surprised to get an e-mail in January stating that I had been accepted as an exam-taker! Of course, this pleasant surprise was well-balanced with a looming sense of dread as I imagined the hours of studying that faced me in the months ahead.

The Exam Itself

The exam requires intimate familiarity with an incredibly diverse range of subjects. It focuses on five different subject areas:

  • Environmental health
  • Infectious & parasitic diseases
  • Food safety
  • Epidemiology and biostatistics
  • Public health administration & education

The first day of the exam is the Subject Matter Expertise Evaluation, in which I’ll be asked to answer five essay questions based on these subject areas. The second day is the Comprehensive Knowledge Examination, consisting of 300 multiple choice questions.

The most consistent advice I’ve gotten from others who have taken the exam recently is that they were surprised at the level of detail these questions went into. If you can imagine knowing the physical properties and legal regulations concerning specific pesticides, the brucellosis testing requirements and different tests allowed for cattle versus captive deer, or the implications of choosing one measure of statistical significance over another, you’re on the right track. Yikes.

The board does not give much in the way of specific guidance for preparing for the exam, other than emphasizing these five subject areas and advising candidates to stay up to date on a list of about 50 textbooks and the “current scientific literature”. Great, thanks.

Fortunately I’ve been able to participate in a teleconference study group with other Army vets who are taking the exam this year, and there is also a formal preparation program put together by Iowa State that costs another $180. I haven’t signed up yet, but probably will as the date gets closer.

What Are My Chances?

So after all this investment of time and money, am I actually going to pass this thing? Honestly, I think it’s pretty unlikely. Most ACVPM diplomats have to take the exam at least a couple of times before they pass, and unfortunately I fully expect to be in that situation too.

The nice thing is that you only have to retake the section(s) that you fail, so if I pass the essay portion but fail the multiple choice section I would only need to do the latter for my second round.

That said, I’m fortunate to be a pretty efficient absorber of information and successful test-taker, so there’s definitely a chance I could still come out on top. I was that guy you all hated in vet school who studied half as much as everyone else, complained about failing every test, and then ended up being the much-maligned curve breaker.

But it’s been a long and eventful four years since I was in that academic environment taking exams every week, so I’m not really sure if I still have the magic to make it happen on minimal preparation.

I’ll keep you all updated on the process. Wish me luck!

Are any of you considering board-certification as you continue along the path to becoming uncommon veterinarians?

Can anyone who is already a diplomate of some sort speak to the value of pursuing this goal?

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20 Responses to “Public Health Veterinarian: The Looming Hurdle Ahead!”

  1. Daniela M. April 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Good luck in your studies! And really cute baby btw!

    • Elliott April 18, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

      Thanks, Daniela! Yes, he does have the cuteness thing going for him, even if the pleasant personality part is still working itself out!

  2. Eden April 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Wow, lots going on. Good luck studying efficiently!

    • Elliott April 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

      Thank you, Eden. Hoping I can kick into high gear any day now…

  3. Karin April 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    As an ACVPM diplomate, previous Army vet, and fellow Tufts grad, I think you’ll pass :). For my current position in academia, I think being boarded in addition to my MPH helps since I don’t have a PhD (and don’t plan on getting one) like a lot of academics. Definitely is beneficial while being in the Army and I imagine it will be in the non-military government sector as well. Good luck!!

    • Elliott April 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

      Thanks for the optimism, Karin! I do hope you’re right, as it would be a real bummer to have to go through this studying process again.

  4. Rebecca April 18, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Thanks for writing this! I’m currently in the process of getting my DVM/MPH, and I’m not really sure if becoming boarded is something I should/want to do. I’d always assumed that sort of thing was pretty much out for me, since my grades aren’t going to make me competitive for internships/residencies, and it was only recently I even heard about the preventive medicine option. And I must say, right now the idea of more exams isn’t exciting to me, haha!

    Good luck with your own studying for it! I’m really interested in hearing about the whole process.

    • Elliott April 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Rebecca. It’s always fun to hear from another DVM/MPHer like myself! Fortunately you don’t have to make any decisions on it for a while. That combined degree program is quite enough to worry about for the time being!

  5. Jessica April 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Good luck! This is one of my many goals in life. I’ll be graduating in a few weeks with my MPH in Epidemiology and hope to gain admission to vet school (c/o 2018). I want to apply for the EIS training program post-DVM and get as much veterinary epidemiology experience as possible. You’re such an inspiration!

    • Elliott April 19, 2013 at 7:28 am #

      Awesome, good luck to you too! That’s cool that you’ll already have the MPH while you’re applying to vet schools — I think it should really help make you a competitive applicant. I’ve thought a lot about going for the EIS also at some point but haven’t made up my mind…

  6. Downward Dog DVM (@DownwardDogDVM) April 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Best of luck on your exam. Don’t give up!

    • Elliott April 22, 2013 at 11:35 am #

      Thanks! I know it will be worth it if I can put in the time now, but it’s hard to find that discipline to keep paging through the endless powerpoints…

  7. Lucy April 20, 2013 at 3:09 am #

    Wow, that is a daunting challenge you have taken on. I know with all of the activity at home, not to mention your work, just finding time to concentrate can’t be easy. I respect your determination, and wish you every success.

    • Elliott April 22, 2013 at 11:37 am #

      Thank you for your encouragement!

  8. Cole Vanicek DVM April 22, 2013 at 12:41 am #


    Good to see you’re still kicking. Good luck on the exam brother. Sounds like a great opportunity! Keep us posted on how the exam goes and any tips you have for us potential future ACPVM candidates.

    Your eager fans will be awaiting the next update.

    • Elliott April 22, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      Haha, thanks Cole. I will definitely be taking notes to share with you and others who are thinking of heading down the same path.

  9. Kristine May 8, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Hi Elliott,

    I have recently stumbled across your website and really appreciate all of the information, both in blogs and comment replies.

    I am currently finishing my Undergrad (graduate in 10 days!) and am accepted into Vet school and also accepted into School of Public Health. I will start on my Master’s this summer. I too have had my eyes on the EIS program as a potential after Veterinary School.

    I have also been thinking a lot about trying to get into the HPSP, and I have a few questions. Do you know if having a/working on a MPH is beneficial in the application process? Does the army pay for the MPH tuition as well as the DVM tuition? During active duty, is it possible to do an EIS follow-ship w/ the CDC, or would this be a post active-duty endeavor? How soon should I contact a recruiter?

    Thank you so much, and best of luck w/ getting your son to dig going to sleep!


    • Elliott May 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

      Congratulations, Kristine, on getting into vet school and the public health program! You’ve got a lot of hard work but also fun ahead of you.

      I’m sure that the dual degree program will help with your HPSP application, but I’ve never seen any statistics to prove this point. I assume it helped me, and I know of several other DVM/MPH vet corps officers who came in that way as well.

      Unfortunately the Army doesn’t pay for the MPH tuition, so that’s a bummer. You might be able to get some or all of the MPH tuition paid off down the road if you’re in the Army and decide to participate in the Health Professions Loan Repayment Program, but I wouldn’t count on that.

      You can definitely do the EIS fellowship while on active duty! This is one of the options for Long Term Health Education and Training, and it would prepare you for ACVPM board certification. You would be much better prepared than I am feeling right now! If you participate in the two year fellowship while on active duty, I think you incur another three year obligation.

      Thanks for your comment, and stay in touch!


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    […] going! I got a little behind in my replies here on the website, but now that I’m done with my board exam I’m working to catch […]

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    […] As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m preparing to take next month’s board exams for the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. If I can manage to squeeze by with a passing score, I’ll have a valuable credential for future job applications and an extra $6000 per year from the Army. Each day I’m realizing how much there still is to learn! […]

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