Nontraditional residencies offer additional paths to specialization

Veterinary residencies are moving out of the teaching hospital as aspiring specialists seek residencies at private and corporate practices, or even find mentors to help design veterinary residencies remotely.

By Emily Singler

Thinking of specializing? Whether you’re still in vet school or already practicing, there are a variety of ways to improve your knowledge and skills to become an expert in the field of your choice. While we traditionally think of veterinary residencies happening at teaching hospitals, residencies also can be offered in private and corporate practices, and sometimes even remotely. 

If board certification is your goal, you may wish to explore your options. I spoke with two veterinarians to learn more about their nontraditional residency programs and how they differ from traditional paths.  

Nonconforming residency programs 

Amanda Modes, DVM, is a veterinarian with general practice, emergency, and relief experience who graduated from vet school 10 years ago. She initially completed an internship and then started working in private practice. Over the years, she felt a desire to specialize, but didn’t want to uproot her family to relocate for a residency program at a veterinary school.  

She coordinated a nonconforming residency in animal behavior where she could participate in her local community through Behavior Vets, a group of private small animal behavior clinics based out of New York and Colorado.   

In the case of behavior, residents in nonconforming programs must find a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB) who is willing to supervise their residency and help design their training. This allows the resident and the supervisor much more freedom to determine the terms of the residency, including location, schedule, and pace of training.  

“The residency is a cooperative effort between the mentor and the resident to develop the program and ensure the requirements for the nonconforming residencies are met,” Modes said. This could take anywhere from three to eight years. 

Apart from freedom of location, other benefits include an open-ended framework that allows the resident and mentor to design the program to meet their needs. For example, Modes’ program includes time to supplement her income with relief shifts from time to time.  

Disadvantages include more pressure on the resident to find a mentor and a need to take a more proactive role in designing their own program, which can be “overwhelming,” said Modes. There can be more isolation as well. Modes works in New Jersey, for example, while her mentor is in Colorado. She needs to schedule a lot of her residency requirements around her responsibilities to see appointments.  

“The resident is often required to supplement costs for any additional components of their training, including attendance to conferences, travel fees, registration for coursework, and potentially taking unpaid time off to complete these requirements,” Modes said. 

Still, she added, “the ability to pursue a residency without uprooting my family was the deciding factor for me choosing a nonconforming residency.” 

Private practice residencies 

Anthony Pilny, DVM, DABVP (Avian Certified), is director of education at the Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital, which has three locations in Arizona. In his role, he oversees the private practice residencies offered through their hospitals. Those who complete these residencies are eligible to pursue certification through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in either avian practice or reptile and amphibian practice.  

“The biggest advantage is caseload and exposure. We are very busy and see a lot of patients daily and perform a lot of surgical procedures,” he said. “Although we focus on education and training, much of it comes from actually seeing patients in a primary-care role while with us.”   

Other advantages can include a salary that is likely higher than what is offered in academic programs, Pilny said, along with opportunities to earn bonuses.  

This two-year residency is constructed in a way to support participants’ wellbeing and ensure they feel confident in their training. Residents have a five-day work week with two days off, and they start with a light caseload that increases with time and experience. This includes observation time where they can learn from senior doctors without having to manage the case themselves, 24/7 availability for consultation or case assistance, and close supervision during surgery until residents gain proficiency.  

Disadvantages to a private practice residency at an exotics-only hospital can include limited interaction and collaboration with specialists in other fields. As an example, a teaching hospital or a large specialty hospital would likely have a radiologist on staff to read radiographs and an orthopedic surgeon who would consult or take the lead on certain fracture repairs (specialties not found at Arizona Exotic). ABVP-certified specialists must also re-certify after 10 years to retain their certification. 

Is a nontraditional residency right for you?  

From both of these veterinarians, the answer is the same: It depends on your needs and interests. Pilny recommends asking a lot of questions, weighing the pros and cons of different residency programs, and deciding on the best program based on individual goals. 

“Veterinarians need to decide their own career path and figure out how to stay fulfilled in this amazing profession,” he said. 

Further reading 


 Photo credit: akinbostanci © E+ via Getty Images Plus 

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 



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