Outstanding Aquatic Veterinary Programs

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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 cats, dogs, cows, and horse medicine, but some may have elective or specialized training available in non-domestic species, such as amphibians, fish, reptiles, pet birds, and poultry, according to the IAAAM.

Students interested in aquatic medicine can turn to fellowships in aquatic or fish medicine to gain more skills in the field. They can also seek employment opportunities in aquatic medicine, although these positions are typically hard to come by, especially fresh out of school, according to the IAAAM. An 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 similar site.

Students interested in the aquatic veterinary medicine field may want to consider certification offered through the American Fisheries Society. Two certifications are available: 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.

In aquatic care and beyond, the demand for veterinary technologists and technicians nationwide continues to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), there is expected to be a 15 percent increase in openings for veterinary technologists and technicians nationwide between 2020 and 2030. That’s much faster growth than the anticipated average for all occupations during that same period (8 percent). With the anticipated addition of 17,100 positions around the country, there is convincing evidence that this field will continue to have a bright outlook into the future.

For all opportunities in veterinary science, education, practical experience, and volunteering can go a long way, according to the IAAAM. To that end, we have put together a list of seven outstanding aquatic veterinary programs. These are noteworthy for the aquatic animal health programs and services they offer.

Cornell University - College of Veterinary Medicine

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Cornell University
Address : Ithaca, NY

Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine 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 diseases in cultured fish, the 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. These wet labs are considered some of the best available for undertaking aquatic animal health research.

This AQUAVET program currently comprises three courses (AQUAVET I-III): an introduction to aquatic veterinary medicine, a comparative pathology of aquatic animals, and a practicum experience. The latter course provides specific training in aquariums and captive aquatic animal medicine. This course is presented at three different venues: the Georgia Aquarium, the University of Georgia, and Dolphinaris in Cancun, Mexico.

  • Location: Ithaca, New York
  • Accreditation: AVMA Council on Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: AQUAVET I (four weeks); AQUAVET II (two weeks); AQUAVET III (five weeks)
  • Estimated Tuition: AQUAVET I ($2,450); AQUAVET II ($1,475); AQUAVET III ($3,800)

The University of Florida (Aquatic Animal Health Program)
Address : Gainesville, FL

The University of Florida offers an aquatic animal health (AAH) program through its College of Veterinary Medicine. The program includes a research component focusing on aquaculture medicine, emerging diseases, the Florida manatee, sea turtle pathology, and viral diseases. Additionally, a hands-on clinical component 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. The school also features an internship program and a residency in aquatic animal medicine.

Also, diagnostic services are available to aquaculture clients. Since specialization in aquatic science does require training beyond four years of veterinary school, the university offers an aquatic animal medicine certificate. The certificate comprises 15 credits in total, including nine required in a core curriculum and the remainder in elective classes.

Finally, the university also offers various short-term training activities such as distance education courses and summer courses.

  • Location: Gainesville, Florida
  • Accreditation: AVMA Council on Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Residency in aquatic animal medicine (three years); aquatic animal medicine certificate (four years)
  • Estimated Tuition: Contact the college for details

University of California, Davis - School of Veterinary Medicine

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University of California, Davis
Address : Davis, CA

The University of California, Davis offers two programs 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 raises awareness about fish and provides services to breeders, commercial aquaculture, hobbyists, retailers, wildlife conservation agencies, and others.

The hospital also offers various procedures for fish, including skin and scale scrapings, biopsy, endoscopy, surgery, water testing, cultures, physical examination, fish virology and microbiology, necropsy, histopathology, koi herpes virus testing, and imaging services (such as ultrasound, radiography, MRI, and CT).

The school also boasts a Wildlife and Aquatic Animal Medicine Club (WAAM), for those interested in pursuing a career in aquatic, zoo, or wildlife animal medicine. The club often arranges for experts to educate students about the varied areas of aquatic, zoo, or wildlife medicine. Students learn through field trips, internships, and unique events, as well as participate in an annual symposium providing them with hands-on experience. WAAM also helps students connect with different organizations and zoos, so they can further their careers in aquatic, wildlife, and zoo medicine.

  • Location: Davis, California
  • Accreditation: AVMA Council on Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Varies
  • Estimated Tuition: Contact UC Davis for a customized assessment

Ohio State University - College of Veterinary Medicine

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Ohio State University
Address : Columbus, OH

The doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree offered by the Ohio State University is a rigorous professional program that requires three to four years of pre-professional study. This DVM degree provides advanced knowledge of veterinary medicine, encourages analytical and critical thinking, and prepares them for professional growth and lifelong learning.

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.

Comprising 167 credits, the program includes courses such as veterinary preventive medicine; respiratory system; clinical veterinary parasitology; veterinary emergency and critical care medicine; introduction to veterinary anesthesia; and introduction to surgery.

One student from the class of 2013, Stephen Reichley, showcases how he built 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.

  • Location: Columbus, Ohio
  • Accreditation: AVMA Council on Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state, first year ($34,228); second year ($34,078); third year ($34,228); fourth year ($51,248)

Oregon State University - Hatfield Marine Science Center

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Oregon State University
Address : Corvallis, OR

Oregon State University has an aquatic animal health program available through the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. The program provides education, outreach, and services to the ornamental fish industry and trains veterinary students to become well-versed in aquatic medicine.

This AAHP (aquatic animal health program) supports various captive aquatic animal stakeholders, including aquaculture, research enterprises, the aquarium fish industry, and educational institutions in domestic and international settings. The primary role of the program is to provide training, so these aquatic animal stakeholders can strive to maintain the highest quality of animal health, husbandry, and welfare.

One of the greatest successes of the program has been showing how basic fish management techniques can significantly reduce the chances of disease and death during ornamental fish importation. The Center also works with national and international marine ornamental organizations to address health issues and research the safe collection and transportation of species.

  • Location: Newport, Oregon
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Varies
  • Estimated Tuition: Contact OSU for a customized assessment

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Address : Conifer, CO

The World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association (WAVMA) offers an aquatic veterinarian certification program that identifies the core competencies or subject matter areas required for practicing aquatic veterinary medicine.

The program recognizes those vets who have acquired the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience from several sources, in the following nine core areas: aquatic environment and life support systems; husbandry and industries; taxonomy, anatomy, and physiology; principles of aquatic animal welfare; legislation, regulations, and policies; public health, zoonotics, and seafood safety; clinical veterinary experience and client communications; diagnostics and treatment of aquatic animal diseases; and pathobiology and epidemiology of aquatic animal diseases.

Applicants will work with mentors and have two years for providing evidence of basic understanding and competency in the nine core areas. After being evaluated and approved, applicants will be entitled to use the "CertAqV" honorific to identify their competency.

To be credentialed by WAVMA as Certified Aquatic Veterinarians and utilize the CertAqV honorific, candidates must be WAVMA members, have a veterinary degree from a nationally recognized veterinary college, university, or school, and have demonstrated competency and general knowledge in core subject areas noted above. Students of a nationally recognized veterinary institution of higher education can register for this program, but will not be certified or entitled to utilize this honorific until they graduate.

  • Location: Conifer, CO
  • Accreditation: NA
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $250

The University of Florida (SeaVet Intensive Course) - College of Veterinary Medicine

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Address : Gainesville, FL

This SeaVet Clinical Training is an intensive ten-day course that is designed for teaching veterinarians and veterinary medical students through didactic lectures, case-based problem-solving, and practical experiences. This three-credit professional class is through the University of Florida.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this training will be conducted online using the virtual meeting application Zoom. Academic credit will only be for veterinary students of the University of Florida. CE credits may be earned by veterinarians.

Course topics include environments-water and air quality, design; wild dolphin conservation; fish medicine; pathology; aquatic birds; invertebrates; phage therapy and antibiotic resistance; ophthalmology; pinnipeds including walrus; and amphibians.

  • Location: Gainesville, FL
  • Accreditation: AVMA Council on Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Ten days
  • Estimated Tuition: Early students registration ($150); regular student registration ($200); early veterinary registration ($350); regular veterinary registration ($400)

Methodology

VetTechColleges used the following criteria while weighing which programs to include on this list:

  1. Accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Council on Education, ensuring that specific standards in veterinary medical education are being met.

  2. Led by experienced professionals, professors, and specialists, who are trained in aquatic medicine, have completed fellowships in the field, or offer expertise in aquatic life.

  3. Variety of opportunities for hands-on learning, both in the United States and abroad

Farheen Gani (Writer)

Farheen Gani is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).