USDA veterinary accreditation program still accepting applications

Overhaul well underway; online training programs coming in spring

March 1, 2011 (published)
By Edie Lau

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is more than halfway through its mammoth task of processing tens of thousands of applications to the revamped National Veterinary Accreditation Program.

Madelaine Fletcher, a spokeswoman for the agency, told the VIN News Service Monday that the agency has received about 55,000 applications to date and sent out 30,000 letters of confirmation to applicants.

“We are in the midst of processing the remaining approximately 25,000,” she wrote in an e-mail. “That process includes examining, entering and verifying data, a very meticulous process.”

Fletcher added that accredited veterinarians who have not yet received confirmations and are anxious for information may contact the program coordinator in the federal area office in their state. She said the coordinators may be able to help since nearly all applicants have been entered in the database by now.

In laying out the overhaul of its accreditation program in late 2009, the USDA originally set Aug. 2 as the deadline for applications. The agency subsequently suspended the deadline and has not set another.

Fletcher explained that the USDA decided it should do everything possible to make sure no one was left out. “Our nation’s accredited veterinarians play an important and integral part in our work, and we want to make sure that as many accredited veterinarians as possible have an opportunity to elect to participate,” she said.

She noted that even now, “Applications continue to trickle in.”

Application forms and other information about the program are available online.

The National Veterinary Accreditation Program (NVAP) is a voluntary program dating back to 1921. It was established to enable private practitioners to assist government veterinarians in controlling animal disease outbreaks. Today, many practitioners — particularly those whose patients chiefly are companion animals — seek accreditation so that they may issue health certificates for pets traveling between states or out of the country.

Previously, anyone accepted into the program was accredited for life, with no further training required. One consequence is that the database of active accredited veterinarians became outdated. For that reason, the agency opted to require new applications from all veterinarians who wish to participate.

That resulted in an onslaught of paperwork through which the agency is still working. The long interval between the time applicants submitted their paperwork and received a response provoked many worries among practitioners that their applications were lost.

However, members of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession, have been reporting recently in an online discussion that they are receiving their renewal confirmations. In one case, eight months elapsed between the time a practitioner applied and the time she received her accreditation.

(The USDA has permitted previously accredited veterinarians who have submitted their renewal applications to continue performing the duties of accredited veterinarians without interruption. In other words, they do not need to have received confirmation of renewal to act as accredited veterinarians.)

In addition to having to reapply for the credential, accredited veterinarians must undergo training in order to maintain accreditation. The training requirements vary depending on the level of accreditation a practitioner wishes to maintain. In general, practitioners who work with non-exotic household pets would opt for Category I, which requires about three hours of training; while clinicians who minister to farm animals, zoo animals, horses and birds would choose Category II, which entails six hours of training.

The training is free and will be available online. Fletcher said training sessions are expected to launch by the end of March, starting with the following four modules:

Introduction to the New National Veterinary Accreditation Program

The session gives the history of the veterinary accreditation program, discusses the importance and benefits of being accredited, lays out the duties and responsibilities of accredited veterinarians, gives details on Category I and II levels of accreditation and describes specialized program certifications that will be available to Category II-accredited practitioners (for example, in johnes, aquaculture, contagious equine metritus and emergency management, among other areas).

Role of Agencies (State, Federal, International) and Health Certificates

This module gives an overview of state, federal, and international agencies with which an accredited veterinarian may interact, and the services these agencies provide. Participants are taught how to accurately complete health certificates for animals traveling domestically or internationally and receive written guidelines for 11 USDA VS Forms and their continuation sheets as references for later use.

Vesicular Diseases

This module focuses on foot-and-mouth disease, vesicular stomatitis, swine vesicular disease and vesicular exanthema in the United States. It describes clinical signs associated with the four vesicular diseases and specific biosecurity measures to help prevent outbreaks. The module takes the veterinarian through an interactive scenario investigating a possible vesicular disease outbreak on a swine farm. Veterinarians learn the process of reporting a possible vesicular disease case and the chain of events that occur in a foreign animal disease investigation.

Exotic Avian Diseases
This module addresses two important diseases of birds — avian influenza and exotic Newcastle disease — and their potential economic impact on the U.S. economy. The module describes clinical signs associated with these diseases and biosecurity measures to prevent outbreaks. Veterinarians participate in an interactive scenario in which one of the diseases potentially is introduced into the country through the pet bird industry. Participants are taught the process of reporting a suspected exotic avian disease and the chain of events that occur in a foreign animal disease investigation.

In all, the agency plans to offer 20 modules. Participants may choose from among the subjects like diners at a buffet. Fletcher said each module takes 45 minutes to one hour to complete and is equal to one hour, or unit, of training.

The USDA is granting accredited veterinarians at least three years and as many as five years to complete the first round of training, so that their renewal dates are staggered. After the first round of renewals, each participant must complete the training requirements every three years in order to maintain accreditation.

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