2017 June - Words: expert, specialist and special interest

Using the words expert, specialist or special interest when referring to a veterinarian’s practice

The Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (s 13) clearly states that a veterinarian must not refer to themselves as a specialist in the course of their practice or use any term that implies specialist knowledge or qualification unless they have been granted registration as a veterinary specialist by the Board: 

  1. An individual must not represent himself or herself to be a specialist in a branch of veterinary science unless he or she is the holder of specialist registration in that branch.
  2. Without limiting the ways in which a person can be considered to be represented as a specialist, a representation using any of the following titles, names or descriptions constitutes such a representation:
  1. any title or description “specialist” or any abbreviation or derivative of that word in connection with the person’s practice of veterinary science,
  2. any title, description, words, or letters implying, or capable of being understood as implying, that the person is a specialist in that branch of veterinary science.


In addition to the word ‘specialist’ and any abbreviation or derivative of that word such as ‘special’, the Board has also generally considered terms such as ‘consultant in’, ‘special interest’, words ending in ‘ist’ such as dermatologist or pathologist, and ‘expert’ to be examples of descriptions which might represent a person to be a specialist.

There are specific areas of registration specialty (determined by the AVBC) and a registered specialist should describe themselves as a ‘registered specialist in’ this specific area.  The specialist must not use a term which does not accurately reflect this area of specialty.  For example, a registered specialist in small animal surgery should not call herself an orthopaedic specialist or a registered specialist in small animal medicine should not call himself a cardiologist.


It is important to note that the legislation refers to an individual representing himself or herself to be a specialist and the Board notes the following points:

  1. Reference to an expert witness and expert evidence are accepted legal terms in both oral and written legal proceedings and the terms ‘specialist’ or ‘expert in’ a particular field do not necessarily imply extra qualification in this context.  A veterinarian may correctly be described as an expert witness when giving veterinary evidence in court. It is therefore not necessary for a veterinarian to clarify these terms during legal proceedings.
  2. Use of terms such as ‘specialist’ or ‘expert’ by reporters when reporting on legal proceedings is consistent with the above and does not amount to a veterinarian representing himself or herself to be a specialist.
  3. Reference to a veterinarian as a specialist when he or she is not a registered specialist in any media reporting is often beyond the control of a veterinarian but where practicable veterinarians must not knowingly allow themselves to be represented as a specialist when they are not a registered specialist.


The Board has also accepted the term ‘referral’ as not being associated with representation as a specialist.  It is possible to refer a case to another veterinarian who is not a registered specialist.  When a client is referred to a second treating veterinarian who is not a specialist both the referring veterinarian and the second treating veterinarian should ensure the client is fully aware of this second veterinarian’s registration status.

The Board also considers the following terms to be acceptable for veterinarians who do not have specialist registration: ‘cat veterinarian’ or other species specific term; ‘consultant to’; ‘professional interest in’; and ‘particular interest in’.

Whilst the Board only places the qualifications required for registration on the Register (such as BVSc, DVM), a veterinarian who has attained other qualifications or is a member of an association may use related postnominals (such as MANZCVS or MRCVS). If you are no longer a financial member of an association, such as those above, you must not use these postnominals.