Aquatic veterinary medicine is emerging as a niche field of study within veterinary schools, but as the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine (IAAAM) points out: “No veterinary college has a comprehensive program for specializing in aquatic or marine mammal medicine.” That’s because the typical veterinary college is built around a generalized four-year program focusing on cat, dog, cow and horse medicine, but some may have elective or specialized training available in non-domestic species, such as amphibian, fish, reptiles, pet birds and even poultry, according to the IAAAM.
Students interested in aquatic medicine can turn to post-DVM work, like fellowships, in aquatic or fish medicine, to gain more skills in the field. They could also seek employment opportunities in aquatic medicine, although these positions are typically hard to come by especially fresh out of school, reports the IAAAM. Another alternative suggested by the IAAAM includes gaining experience in private practice and then applying for an aquatic medicine internship in a place like the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Florida Aquarium or another site. Education, practical experience and volunteering can go a long way, according to the IAAAM, and to that end, we have put together a list of five outstanding aquatic veterinary programs. These are noteworthy simply for the aquatic animal health programs and services they offer. We have done our best to provide some of the most fundamental details about these programs, but offerings do vary as do the details and types of information readily available online.
Finally, students who may be interested in the aquatic veterinary medicine field may want to consider certification offered through the American Fisheries Society. Indeed, the two certifications are available and include: the Certified Fish Pathologist and Certified Aquatic Animal Health Inspector. DVM graduates may also be interested in joining the World Aquatic Veterinary Medicine Association and eventually becoming eligible to seek board certification through the American College of Zoological Medicine.
Cornell University has an Aquatic Animal Health Program known as AQUAVET that offers immersion training into the field of aquatic medicine. The program, co-sponsored by Cornell with the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, began in 1977 and focuses on disease in cultured fish, development of fish vaccines, fish health management in aquaculture systems and pathology of wild fish, especially where it may tie into environmental contamination. Two research laboratories are available to support research into aquatic toxicology, bacteriology, immunology, pathology and virology. The program also oversees the school's wet lab facilities, which have been designed to maintain aquatic animals and are capable of containing serious pathogens while managing water quality control. According to the Cornell website, these wet labs are considered some of the best available for undertaking aquatic animal health research.
University of Florida offers an aquatic animal health (AAH) program through its College of Veterinary Medicine. The program includes a research component, currently focusing in on aquaculture medicine, emerging diseases, the Florida manatee, sea turtle pathology and viral diseases and a clinical component that is operated by Mike Walsh, DVM, co-director of the aquatic animal health program. The clinical work involves handling several contracts in the area as well as responding to requests for help with stranded marine mammals. Dr. Tom Waltzek is the other co-director of the AAH program and one of two directors of the Wildlife and Aquatic Veterinary Disease Laboratory, which gives budding veterinary and graduate researchers the opportunity to be mentored in virology, genetics, and disease diagnostics. The school also features an internship program and a residency in aquatic animal health. Finally, diagnostic services are also available to aquaculture clients. Because specialization in aquatic science does require training beyond four years of veterinary school, the university offers an Aquatic Animal Medicine Certificate that is 15 credits in total, including eight required in a core curriculum and the remainder in elective classes.
The University of California, Davis offers two program components that may be of interest to students who want to learn more about aquatic medicine. First, it recently opened its Aquatic Animal Health Service through the school's teaching hospital that works to raise fish awareness and provide services to breeders, commercial aquaculture, hobbyists, retailers, wildlife conservation agencies and others. Clients can also bring their fish in for biopsy, endoscopy, skin and scale scrapings, surgery and others services. Second, the school offers a Wildlife and Aquatic Animal Medicine Club, which exposes students to learning through field trips, internships and unique events and also offers an annual symposium.
At Ohio State University, students in the fourth year of their DVM program can specialize in a field of study through electives and field experience. The school has numerous options available for those who want to gain off-site aquatic experiences in this final year, including in places like the Aquaculture Service, Fisheries & Aquaculture Department, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome and the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling in the UK. More than 20 aquatic sites are listed on its aquatic medicine elective web page, potentially connecting students to numerous domestic or overseas aquatic medicine experiences. One student from the class of 2013, Stephen Reichley, really showcases how he build up his own portfolio and experience in aquatic medicine by utilizing the school's fourth-year 'career area of emphasis' and gaining externships in aquatic medicine in Idaho, Italy, Ireland, Norway and Scotland.
Oregon State University has an Aquatic Animal Health Program available through the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. The program provides education, outreach and service to the ornamental fish industry and trains veterinary students to become well versed in aquatic medicine. One of the greatest successes of the program has been showing how basic fish management technique can significantly reduce the chances for disease and death during ornamental fish importation. The Center also works with national and international marine ornamental organizations to address health issues and conduct research into the safe collection and transportation of species.