Guidelines of the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria
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Guideline 17 - Emergency veterinary services and specialist veterinary services

This guideline outlines the appropriate standard expected of a registered veterinary practitioner in the course of veterinary practice. It should be read in conjunction with other related guidelines.


Context to Guideline 17: Emergency veterinary services and specialist veterinary services

To inform their choice of veterinary service provider, owners may rely on a veterinary practice to differentiate the veterinary services offered. The public understanding of commonly used categories of emergency and specialist veterinary service provision appears below:
  1. Emergency veterinary services — veterinary services involving the consultation and treatment of urgent animal health issues which have a significant impact on an animal’s wellbeing
  2. Specialist veterinary services — veterinary services delivered by a registered specialist veterinary practitioner, i.e., endorsed by the Board as a specialist in that branch of veterinary medicine or surgery
  3. Specialist emergency services — a combination of “emergency veterinary services” and “specialist veterinary services”, where a registered specialist veterinary practitioner is directly involved in the delivery of emergency veterinary services.

A veterinary practice should ensure that it uses the above terms (or variations of those terms) in its trading name or in publicly available information so it conforms with the public understanding of those terms. Where emergency or specialist services are provided outside of usual business hours, a veterinary practice is expected to clearly specify the hours when these services are delivered in advertising and any other publicly available information.

Veterinary practitioners may recommend and refer animal owners to veterinary specialists, and some veterinary specialists also accept enquiries directly from the public. More information: Guideline 12 - Referrals between veterinary practitioners.

A veterinary specialist is a registered veterinary practitioner who has been endorsed by the Board as having an exceptionally high level of skill in a particular branch of veterinary medicine or surgery that is well above that of a general practitioner in the same discipline. A veterinary specialist must have undergone extensive advanced supervised training, culminating in the passing of a rigorous set of examinations. Generally, veterinary specialists are endorsed by the Board based on recommendations made by the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC).

Veterinary practitioners who have been endorsed as veterinary specialists by the Board can be located by surname or specialisation on the Board’s website at Search for a Vet.

Under section 57 of the Veterinary Practice Act 1997 (the Act), a veterinary practitioner cannot claim to be qualified to practise as a veterinary specialist or use titles that may give the impression they are a specialist if they have not been endorsed by the Board as a veterinary specialist in a particular branch of veterinary medicine or surgery. The Board recognises that some general veterinary practitioners may have many years’ experience practising in particular areas of veterinary medicine or surgery. However, they should be careful not to mislead animal owners and members of the public that they are a veterinary specialist or have specialist-level skills in a particular branch of veterinary medicine or surgery if they are not endorsed as a specialist. Section 59 of the Act contains offences relating to misleading advertising.

A key question is, ‘Could anything in any publicly available information or communicated to animal owners or professional peers give the impression that a veterinary practitioner is a veterinary specialist?’. For example, it could be misleading if information about a veterinary practitioner:
  • contains words ending in “ist”, e.g., dermatologist, oncologist, radiologist
  • is associated with a scope of work such as a particular animal species or breed, or a particular condition, e.g., “alpaca vet”, “dachshund vet”, “skin vet”, “glaucoma vet” or “cancer vet”
  • highlights a list of qualifications, publications and CPD or uses post-nominals (abbreviations of memberships or qualifications). Inappropriate use of post-nominals would include referring to a membership if a veterinary practitioner is no longer a financial member of an association (e.g., ANZCVS if no longer a member of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Surgeons) or using the letters MRCVS in Australia if membership of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons was obtained solely through registration (not examination).

To prevent misleading animal owners, other veterinary practitioners and the public, it is recommended a statement that the veterinary practitioner is not an endorsed veterinary specialist is provided next to potentially misleading information and in consultations with animal owners.

A veterinary practitioner who refers an animal’s owner to another veterinary practitioner may only call the other practitioner a specialist, or imply in other ways that they are a specialist, if that person is currently endorsed by the Board as a registered veterinary specialist in a particular branch of veterinary medicine or surgery. More information: Guideline 12 - Referrals between veterinary practitioners.

The Board encourages veterinary specialists who have been endorsed by the Board as a veterinary specialist in a particular branch of veterinary medicine to call themselves Registered Specialist in [branch of veterinary medicine in which they are endorsed]. This will indicate to the public that the veterinary practitioner holds required specialist qualifications and is accepted by the profession as a specialist. It is important that a veterinary specialist accurately identifies the branch of veterinary medicine or surgery in which they are endorsed, e.g., small animal medicine not cardiology; small animal surgery not orthopaedic surgery.

Where a practice claims to be a specialist centre, the public may reasonably believe that the practice will be staffed by registered specialists. Veterinary practitioners who work at a specialist centre who have not been endorsed as veterinary specialists by the Board (e.g., residents or interns in a specialist training program) must be careful not to mislead animal owners that they are veterinary specialists.

Professional conduct under this guideline is demonstrated by the following:
17.1 A veterinary practice which uses the terms Emergency Veterinary Services, Specialist Veterinary Services or Specialist Emergency Services (or variations of these terms) in its name or in publicly available information about the practice should ensure that its use of such terms conforms with the following definitions:
  • Emergency Veterinary Services — veterinary services involving the consultation and treatment of urgent animal health issues which have a significant impact on an animal’s wellbeing
  • Specialist Veterinary Services — veterinary services delivered by a registered specialist veterinary practitioner, i.e., endorsed by the Board as a specialist in a particular branch of veterinary medicine or surgery.
  • Specialist Emergency Services — a combination of ‘emergency veterinary services’ and ‘specialist veterinary services’, where a registered specialist veterinary practitioner is employed by the practice.
17.2 A veterinary practitioner advertises the provision of emergency veterinary services only where appropriate facilities, equipment and/or assistance are available, and a registered veterinary practitioner is accessible to deliver required treatments and procedures.
17.3 A veterinary practitioner providing veterinary emergency services ensures that the owner of the animal clearly understands the care required after the emergency treatment and what veterinary services are available should the animal need additional assessment or treatment. 
17.4 A veterinary practitioner ensures that any limitations or conditions to their offering of emergency veterinary services are communicated in a manner that clearly informs the owner as to the scope or availability of the offered services.
17.5
A veterinary practitioner providing veterinary emergency services is able to demonstrate that the services they provide differ from non-emergency services.
17.6 A veterinary practitioner who has not been endorsed by the Board as a veterinary specialist does not represent themself as a specialist in consultations with animal owners and in publicly available information.
17.7 A veterinary practitioner who provides services in a specific branch of veterinary medicine or surgery but who has not been endorsed by the Board as a specialist in that branch clearly informs animal owners that they are not a specialist, clearly explains the veterinary services they provide, and records discussions in veterinary medical records.
17.8 A veterinary practitioner who works in a practice promoting the availability of specialist veterinary services but who has not been endorsed by the Board as a veterinary specialist clearly informs animal owners that they are not a specialist, clearly explains the veterinary services they provide and records discussions in veterinary medical records.
17.9 A veterinary practitioner who has been endorsed as a specialist by the Board accurately represents the particular branch of veterinary medicine or surgery in which they are endorsed in consultations with animal owners and in publicly available information. A specialist does not represent that they are a specialist in a branch of veterinary medicine or surgery if they have not been endorsed by the Board as a specialist in that branch.
17.10 The trading name of a practice must not contain the word “specialist” or any derivation of it unless at least one of the veterinary practitioners employed in the practice is a registered veterinary specialist who can be consulted by other veterinary practitioners.
17.11 A veterinary practitioner who refers an animal’s owner to another veterinary practitioner does not represent the other practitioner as a veterinary specialist if the other practitioner has not been endorsed as a veterinary specialist by the Board.

Related guidelines

Related legislation

Date of publication
In effect from 1 May 2021.
Revised effective 12 December 2023.

This material is current only at the time of publication and may be changed from time to time. The Board reviews and updates the Guidelines on a continuous basis to reflect changes in the science and knowledge base underpinning contemporary veterinary practice. The Board will take reasonable steps to inform the veterinary profession when such updates are released but it remains the responsibility of the individual veterinary practitioner to ensure that their knowledge and application of these Guidelines to their own practice is current.

While the Board has made every effort to ensure that the material in these Guidelines is correct in law, it shall not be liable to any veterinary practitioner or any other person or entity in relation to any claim, action or proceeding whatsoever (whether in contract, negligence or other tort or in proceedings seeking any other form of legal or equitable remedy or relief) for any inadequacy, error or mistake, or for any deficiency in the whole or any part of this document (including any updates incorporated in the document from time to time). A veterinary practitioner or any other person or entity acting upon the contents of this document acknowledges and accepts that this is the basis upon which the Board has produced these Guidelines and made them available to such person or entity.