Vet 101: To Specialize or Not to Specialize by Dr. Richard Goldstein

If you love cats, sharing makes us purrrr :-)

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To Specialize Or Not To Specialize

by Dr. Richard Goldstein DVM

That is one of the big questions facing veterinarians as they come out of veterinary school today. Should I go into general practice, or specialize in one area of veterinary medicine? As Layla mentioned in last week’s post, I am a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, with a specialty in canine and feline medicine and surgery. It’s kind of like being board certified in general practice or family medicine in people (Passing the ABVP boards required writing two in-depth case reports, and passing a comprehensive exam that made veterinary school look like a walk in the park!) but in addition to ABVP, the American Veterinary Medical Association currently recognizes 22 different specialties (including internal medicine, surgery, dermatology, behavior, ophthalmology, emergency medicine, and even poultry medicine), and 40 different subspecialties (e.g. cardiology and oncology are considered subspecialties of internal medicine).

So how important is it to become a specialist, or to consult with a specialist?

By the time they graduate, veterinarians are fully equipped to become excellent general practitioners. But in the rapidly changing world of medicine, it can be very difficult to keep up with the vast amounts of new information that routinely become available. Specialization allows a veterinarian to focus on the areas of medicine that he/she may find most interesting. By staying most current on one particular subject, specialists become a great resource of information for general practitioners and their patients to receive the most up-to-date information on various medical conditions. It is estimated that new medical information can take up to two years or more before it is published and becomes available to doctors “in the trenches.” In many cases, specialists are either the ones conducting studies, or are in contact with colleagues who are conducting studies, allowing break-throughs and discoveries to be communicated at a much faster rate.
Specialization is not an easy road to take, and it’s not for everyone. In addition to four years of veterinary school, most specialists are required to do a 1 year internship, followed by a 3 year residency at a university or referral center, and then must publish papers and pass a rigorous examination in their chosen specialty. While the specialty path may appeal to some vets, others may prefer to go right into practice and provide comprehensive care to their patients.
Specialists can be excellent resources in the care of our cats. If your vet is stumped (it happens to the best of us!), or if you’d like a second opinion (never a bad thing), it never hurts to ask your vet about setting up a referral for a consultation with a specialist. Chances are there’s a recognized specialist for the problem at hand. But a specialist is not a substitute for your kitty’s regular doctor. Like every good ship, your kitty needs a captain at the helm making sure that all systems are functioning properly, and that all of her medical issues are being addressed. Someone who knows that she likes to be scratched behind the ears when she’s having her blood drawn. Someone who knows clavamox makes her sick but baytril works well for her. Someone who knows your kitty medically inside and out. Someone like her family vet who wishes her a purrrfectly healthy and happy new year!

Have a question for Dr. G. about your cat? Send it to with Vet 101 in the subject line.


An vet update from Layla. Huge thanks for all the good wishes, purrs and prayers. Our Domino was seen by another excellent Cornell trained vet on Monday but we’re still waiting for the test results. He was given a shot of antibiotics for an upper respiratory infection. Domino wasn’t eating until hubby had the idea to give him a firm brushing and massage which he loves. It seemed to stimulate his appetite. To coax him to eat, he’s receiving several  brushings a day. He purrs and then eats. I learn something new every day!

Domino has never been restricted in any space (it was his first car ride on Monday) and not keen about being quarantined. It’s a huge space but he misses his pals so I’m sleeping with him to keep him company. While the clinic we went to is one I would frequent again, I miss our mobile clinic and Dr. G. who will be checking up on Domino soon.


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