Professional Certificate in Shelter Medicine

Veterinary students earn the Certificate in Shelter Medicine after completing a rigorous series of electives, clerkships, and externships throughout all 4 years of veterinary school. The 15-credit certificate is an internationally recognized credential of outstanding achievement and day-one readiness for animal welfare practice. Armed with these skills, our alumni enter practice in shelters, spay/neuter clinics, animal cruelty and disaster response organizations, or weave these services into private practices where they become a vital part of their community’s safety net for pets and families.

Dr. Meghan Mielo

No two days alike

Shelter veterinarians are both specialized in population medicine and broadly skilled in patient care. Most become exquisite surgeons, capable of expertly performing dozens of procedures in a few hours. In a single day, shelter veterinarians may pivot from trauma surgeon for an injured stray, to neonatologist for orphaned kittens, to criticalist for puppies with parvo, to expert witness in an animal cruelty case, to high-intensity trap-neuter-return for community cats, to One Health practitioner planning a community rabies vaccination clinic. Learn more about the tremendous possibilities in shelter practice.

Something for Everyone

This certificate is not just for students who plan for careers in animal shelters. Every private practitioner will see pets in their clinics from local shelters, nonprofit rescue groups, and foster families for medical care. Additionally, shelters are one of the most common sources of new pets in the US, with potential adopters able to select from roughly 6 million dogs and cats that find themselves in the shelter system each year. Collaboration with local shelters can help smooth the transition of adopted pets into their new homes and be great practice builder by attracting new patients into the business. Although only one surgery is required for graduation, Shelter Medicine students typically perform a hundred or more as part of their training in minimally invasive high-quality high-volume spay-neuter (HQHVSN) and other common shelter surgeries. They enter the workforce with above average skills, efficiency, and confidence for new graduates.

Dr. Ashley Saver with Beckett

Immersion in the skills of animal welfare practice

Animal shelters today are increasingly focused on reimagining their roles and shifting away from a model that relies on separating pets from their people before aid can be given.  Veterinarians are at the center of this transformation, leading the development of safety net programs to increase access to veterinary care, safeguarding the health of hundreds of animals at a time, assuring that each animal's stay in the shelter is as brief as possible, and that each animal has the outcome that is best for them. Together, they are creating a new world for animal services. One that is humane, cost effective, and collaborative, preserving and honoring the human-animal bond, and saving animals’ lives. 

More than Medicine: Training for Skills, Leadership, and Resilience


Measurable Skills, Tangible Impact

Certificate students learn theory and best practices in class. Then they’re adapting and making smart choices under real-world conditions – always with a coach and always with an eye on improving lives of pets and people.

care of sheltered animals infectious disease control disaster management health surveillance population management leading teams protocol development cruelty investigation and forensic cases behavior assessment and enrichment evidence-based practice HQHVSN special surgery

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Nationally Recognized Professional Certifications

In addition to earning the Professional Certificate at UF, students will also complete several other specialized certifications valuable for both Shelter Medicine and private practice.

Certified Fear Free Professional
Fear Free Shelters Certification
FEMA-certified for disaster response
USDA-accredited for animal emergency relocation health certificates

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4 Career Pathways

An Open Door to Next Level Specialized Training

Focus on early workforce entry:
1. Professional Certificate: 15 units of electives in veterinary school
2. Internship: 1 year intensive clinical training

Pathway to specialty certification:
3. Residency Path: 3 years intensive training + certification exam
4. Practitioner Path: 6 years experience + certification exam

Review programs in the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program

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Required Courses in the Certificate in Shelter Medicine

Course # Course Name Credits Fall Spring Summer
VEM5320 Shelter Animal Behavior and Welfare 3 X Online
VEM5321 Integrating Veterinary Medicine with Shelter Systems 3 X Online + shelter visit
VEM5381 Shelter Animal Physical Health 3 X Online
VEM5892 Shelter Medicine Externship 2 Flexible Flexible Flexible In shelter
VEM5892 Spay/Neuter Externship 2 Flexible Flexible Flexible In clinic
VEM5863 Shelter Medicine Practice Clerkship (Clerkship option 1) 2 X X X Alachua County Animal Resources
VEM5364 Shelter Animal Sterilization & Population Management Clerkship (Clerkship option 2) 2 X X X Miami-Dade Animal Services
VEM5390 Consultations in Shelter Animal Medicine Clerkship (Clerkship option 3) 2 X X Online + client animal shelter
VEM5891 Veterinary Community Outreach Program (Clerkship option 4) 2 X X X In person

Additional Elective Courses in Shelter Medicine

Course # Course Name Credits Fall Spring Summer
VEM5051 Welfare and Wellness for Pets and People 1 X X X Online
VEM5051 Introduction to Veterinary Disaster Response 1 X Online
VEM5322 Shelter Medicine (“Miami Shelter Camp”) Co-requisite: VEM5321 1 X Online + Miami-Dade Animal Services
VEM5324 Veterinary Forensic Medicine 1 X In person
VEM5342 Community Cat Management 1 X X X Online + in person
Clerkships Multiple clerkships may be completed for credit ––

Sample Certificate Pace Chart

Getting Started

Most students who begin veterinary school with an interest in Shelter Medicine join the Student Chapter of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians during their first year. The SCASV club hosts lectures, wet labs, field trips, and adoption events. Club members also participate in disaster responses, humane investigation cases, and volunteerism with local animal shelters and animal welfare organizations as opportunities to help arise. Students can enroll in the UFCVM SCASV via email to

Students can also start attending Shelter Medicine Grand Rounds and Journal Clubs right away. These virtual live conferences take place by Zoom Wednesdays at 7:30 pm ET. They are a great way to learn what’s happening on the leading edge of Shelter Medicine and an opportunity to network with veterinarians, shelter leaders, and other experts from across the globe. Veterinary Forensics Rounds take place every second Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET through a partnership with the International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association.

Completing the Courses

The easiest way to get started on the Certificate in Shelter Medicine is to enroll in VEM5321 Integrating Veterinary Medicine with Shelter Systems in the summer between the 1st and 2nd year. However, we always have a few students who discover their affinity for Shelter Medicine a little later, and they have a second chance to complete the course in the summer between the 3rd and 4th years. This sample pace chart shows the most common sequence for completing the certificate requirements.

Most students complete their externships in the summer between their 3rd and 4th years, although some are scheduled throughout the year when there are open blocks in the clinical clerkship schedule. No matter when a student discovers this rewarding field, the Shelter Medicine Program is ready to support them with as much flexibility as possible.

In addition to 15 units of required electives to earn the certificate, we offer additional electives for students who desire even more skill development in surgery, forensics, disaster response, shelter consultation and assessment, and building compassion satisfaction and resiliency for long-term career success.

All of the Shelter Medicine courses are open to all UF veterinary students, regardless of whether they enroll in the certificate program. However, certificate students may have priority in some space-limited courses and extracurricular opportunities when demand is high. Note that 1st and 2nd year students are not allowed to enroll in electives during the fall and spring terms.

Fees & Financial Assistance

The Professional Certificate in Shelter Medicine is made possible by foundations and individuals who are just as passionate about the training of future veterinarians in animal welfare as we are. Their generosity makes it possible to offer these courses at no cost to the students using block tuition.

  • Tuition: All of the courses required to complete the Certificate in Shelter Medicine are included in UF veterinary student block tuition.
  • Fear Free Certification: Certification fees are waived for UF veterinary students and veterinary technician students.
  • Association of Shelter Veterinarians: Students will pay a discounted $10 student membership fee when joining this professional association.
  • Travel: Funds to support student travel to special offsite courses and shelter consultations are available.
  • Scholarships: Several scholarships are awarded each year to students who demonstrate extraordinary commitment to the improvement of the lives of sheltered and homeless animals through the study and advancement of Shelter Medicine.