Nomadic Vet: Mastering Multi-state Licensing

Dr. Nikki Johnson, DVM
November 16, 2023

The allure of working in different regions, reaching more patients and clinics, and contributing to the field of veterinary medicine on a broader scale is enticing, but the path to acquiring your DVM license in multiple states can feel complicated. In this article, I’ll help you understand the multi-state maze of veterinary licensing, including the essential requirements, tips for streamlining the application process, and I’ll share some personal insights. 

Along with this article, Roo is releasing a sneak preview of their DVM Licensing Guide that is going to really simplify the multi-state licensing process for us all! This, and so many more great resources, are now available in the Veterinary Resources section of the Roo site, Roo’s one-stop informational super-center with everything under the sun to make being a relief veterinarian or technician a breeze!

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How to get your ducks in a row so you can work wherever you want 

I am a native Floridian, and I lived in Florida for my entire life through veterinary school. So when I got my first veterinary license, I was only registered in the state of Florida. I certainly have made some big changes since then! I decided after about a year and a half of working in Florida that I was ready for a change, and I started looking at practicing in North Carolina. My inspiration to move was attending a 3-week long externship in Asheville during vet school and absolutely falling in love with the scenery, nature, and outdoor activities. The options for hiking and rock climbing (two of my biggest hobbies) are truly amazing in the mountains around that area. 

So when the time came to start looking for jobs, I set my sights on Charlotte. The funny thing about Charlotte is that it sits right on the border of North and South Carolina, so while you live in one state, you might end up working in the other. Thus started my first foray into multi-state licensing. I applied for licenses in both states so that I could be ready to accept a job and move when the right opportunity came along. What ended up happening was that I lived in the heart of Charlotte but worked a mere 20 minutes away in South Carolina. I maintained both licenses for the several years I lived there, especially since once I started doing relief work in the area, I could be crossing the state line each day. The states had different requirements for DEA licensing, Rabies certifications, continuing education, and a lot more that I had to keep track of! 

The most important thing that I learned from these initial few licenses was to stay organized! Keeping track of when each license expires and how many veterinary CE credits are required for each was essential. For states such as South Carolina, there were special requirements such as a state-specific DEA license that added an extra layer of renewal (and payment, of course) to remember. It would absolutely make our lives easier to have renewals and CE credits on the same schedule, but unfortunately, I don’t see it ever happening. I keep a running Google document (template provided here) with all of my license numbers, CE requirements, dates of expiration, and any other pertinent information.

The Ultimate Roo Licensing Guide - Veterinary license requirements by state

Navigating state by state veterinary licensing requirements

The next step in my country-wide veterinary journey was a move to California. At the time, I moved to follow a partner I was seriously dating (plus, I always love a new adventure!) all the way out to Orange County. I had always heard that California was one of the most difficult states to get licensed in, but as long as I didn’t have to retake the NAVLE — NEVER again — I was open to making it happen. The process of getting licensed in California took about 4 months total and required quite a bit of money plus a lot of steps. It was the only state I’ve applied to so far that required a full credential transfer, official license verifications, and proof of a minimum number of hours of practice each year. I used the AAVSB VAULT Transfer Service (an essential resource for applying for new licenses) for a full transfer to California, which cost a little bit more money but seemed to be the only way to get all the information needed transferred easily and promptly. 

I applied for this, and all future licenses, “by endorsement” (sometimes called “reciprocity”), which I would always recommend as it seems to be the easiest method. It allows you to use your current active veterinary licenses as proof of being qualified for another state license. Most states also have a state-specific laws examination that needs to be passed in order to get licensed there. Some are open book, some not. Personally, I found Florida to be one of the most difficult (not open book) and California relatively easy (open book) — so prepare accordingly! 

Temporary licenses for short trips

The next step I took in multi-state licensing was getting a temporary license to practice in Hawaii. I got the amazing opportunity to do relief work for a few weeks on the island of Oahu at a low cost general practice clinic. The need for veterinary services in Hawaii is really significant, so luckily, the process for getting a temporary license is relatively easy. I had to submit an application and a fee, provide proof of an active veterinary license in another state, and verify I would be working under a licensed veterinarian who would be available for consultation on the island (the practice owner in my case). I applied for the license and was working in Hawaii within 2 months, so it still required a little bit of preparation! I personally found an amazing clinic that paid for my travel in order to have me come work there, and it was one of my absolute favorite experiences! 

How many is too many veterinary licenses?

Most recently, I decided to apply for my Colorado license, which will bring me up to 4 licenses (and one temporary Hawaii license). This license has been one of the easiest and most straight-forward, which was nice after having to retake my Florida licensing test because it was so hard. There wasn’t a state-specific application, the application fee was one of the lowest, and I just had to send unofficial license verifications and my NAVLE score via AAVSB. I had my license within a month!  

For now, I'm going to work for a while and see how complicated my taxes are for this upcoming year before I decide how many more licenses I want! Washington State, Oregon, Arizona, and New York are certainly on my short-list, mostly because they are places I love to visit where I have more great friends and family (or good rock climbing).

Other licenses to keep track of 

DEA licensing will probably always be a thorn in a traveling-relief-veterinarian’s side, so I have found that keeping it simple works best for me. I keep my DEA license registered in one state (where my business address is), and in other states, I let clinics know that I do not have an active DEA license there. 

Some clinics are not comfortable with this, so they are not a good fit for me, but a majority of the time, this has not been an issue. It does mean that I cannot write controlled drug prescriptions in other states, but as I am filling in and not a full-time doctor at these clinics, generally the full-time veterinarian can write their own controlled drug prescriptions. 

The recent free Roo CE on DEA requirements and suggestions gives great information on this.

What about maintaining a USDA license? It’s definitely helpful, especially in certain states like California that issue many for travelers, but I have elected not to maintain mine and not write health certificates as a relief DVM. It’s definitely personal preference! 

My main tips and tricks:

  1. Stay Organized! — I recommend a universal document keeping track of license numbers, expiration dates, and CE requirements.
  2. Organize your income by state! — This definitely helps keep records straight for tax season!
  3. Use the AAVSB's VAULT Transfer Service to make your life a bit easier, especially with states with strict requirements (like California). 
  4. Getting licensed by endorsement/reciprocity is your friend! 
  5. Use Vet Concierge (coming soon) to save yourself time and energy having to look up application requirements.

It’s really not as scary as it seems!  

For other tips on becoming a traveling veterinarian, see my previous article on the logistics involved in getting started. My next article will take a little holiday break to talk about family and travel! Stay tuned!

Vet Concierge Licensing Guide

Great news! Every state covered here and so many more are included in Roo’s DVM Licensing Guide, covering veterinary license requirements in dozens of states across the country! 

This one-stop resource is the perfect place to start when looking to get licensed in additional states and planning travel. From renewal fees and timelines to CE requirements, everything you need to know is highlighted in these easy-to-navigate simplified state-by-state licensing guides. Enjoy and happy travel Roo-ing!

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