The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Council has decided that the final enrolments for the remaining RCVS Diplomas must be made by 1 November 2012.


This is in line with the recommendation made by the Education Policy and Specialisation Committee to Council that the RCVS should speed up the process of phasing out all of the remaining RCVS Diplomas in favour of the increasingly popular European Diplomas.


There are now such small numbers of candidates sitting RCVS Diploma exams that benchmarking and determining a consistent examination standard becomes increasingly difficult, and the examination increasingly indefensible and unsustainable. For example, in each of the past three years, only two candidates have entered the Diploma in Small Animal Surgery (Orthopaedics) exam, and there was only one candidate in 2008.  Similarly, it is now usual for only one or two candidates per year to sit Diploma exams in Zoo Medicine, Cattle Health and Production or Ophthalmology.


A number of RCVS Diplomas have already been phased out, and new enrolments are no longer being taken in subjects such as Small Animal Medicine, Dermatology, Anaesthesia and Diagnostic Imaging.


Examinations will continue to be held for enrolled candidates (including candidates who enrol ahead of the 1 November 2012 deadline). The last Diploma examinations held in each subject will depend upon when its final candidates complete the pre-examination requirements. For candidates enrolling this year, this means 2019 at the latest.


The phasing out of RCVS Diplomas has been an agreed strategy of Council for many years after the then Education Strategy Steering Group recommended greater convergence with European Colleges in a report to Council in 2002 entitled "A framework for veterinary education and training for 2010 and beyond". 


The position of each subject has been under review by the respective subject boards at their annual board meetings for the last few years, and some have already been closed to new entrants. 


"For some subjects, there had been a perception that the European route required the candidate to follow a residency in an academic institution, which could be a barrier to UK practitioners' chances of completing a Diploma," says Professor Mike Herrtage, Chairman of the RCVS Diplomas and Certificates Subcommittee.  "However, all the European Colleges allow an alternate training route for practitioners provided the programme is planned and specified at the time of enrolment and approved by the College before training starts." 


In some subjects, the European Diploma syllabus may not cover exactly the same ground as the RCVS equivalent - for example, small animal surgery encompasses both soft tissue surgery as well as orthopaedics - but the trend for residency positions in both universities and specialists practices has been to take candidates through the European style programmes, which produces more surgical specialists who thereafter can major in one aspect of another.   


"Recent experience has shown that many diplomates take the European Diploma first, and this entitles them to apply to join the list of RCVS Recognised Specialists," says Mike. "If they then want to specialise in a narrower field they can do so, by providing supporting data and references to show that they are practising at a specialist level in the area concerned."


Veterinary surgeons will continue to have multiple routes to RCVS Recognised Specialist status - including via European Diplomas, which also offer a route for those not in a standard residency position, American Diplomas, the RCVS Fellowship, or other such high level qualifications.