Q: We recently were told by our veterinarian that our pet needs to see a specialist. What exactly does that mean?A: Pets are often referred to a specialist when they need testing, surgery or care not available at a general practice. Specialists are usually board-certified in a specific area of expertise. Some examples of specialties include surgery, internal medicine, pathology, dermatology, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, emergency and critical care, behavior and cardiology. Requirements and testing are usually managed by a board for each specialty (American College of Veterinary Dermatology, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and so on).Requirements for most specialties begin with completion of a veterinary degree. Internships of one to two years usually follow. Interns typically spend time working in several different specialties. After internships are completed, residencies are used to focus on a single specialty and prepare for board examination for that specialty. Residencies are usually four years but can vary depending on the specialty and hospital where the residency is completed. Some specialties offer fellowships after residency completion. Internships, residencies and fellowships can be completed at university hospitals, private hospitals or the military.After residency completion, a prospective specialist must pass board certification examinations for his or her specialty. These are usually written, oral and possibly practical examinations to demonstrate the knowledge required for specialty certification. After these exams are completed, the veterinarian is a board-certified specialist in his or her field. Most specialists practice at universities or private specialty hospitals. These facilities offer procedures and equipment generally not available in primary care hospitals.Board certification in a specialty requires many years of hard work and extensive testing. Specialists offer clients and their pets years of knowledge and expertise.