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.
First, 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
I 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.
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?