What is AAHA certification, why is it important to me, and why should it be important to you?

When you go to a human hospital, you know that standards exist to accredit the facility in which you seek health care. When you take your pets to the veterinarian, do you ever wonder what criteria exist to evaluate the quality of a veterinary practice? Did you know that accreditation, unlike for human hospitals, is completely voluntary and only 12% of North American veterinary hospitals meet the strict standards set by AAHA?

Not every veterinary practice is the same, and it’s easier for those of us in the field to see the medical differences, but you’ve probably even been to a veterinary hospital before and noticed some very obvious things that are different, such as cleanliness or friendliness of staff, or even their willingness to help you resolve a difficult situation when it does occur.

When I first graduated from veterinary school in 1994, I’d taken my own family’s dog to a veterinarian for many years, and by that point even worked in a few veterinary hospitals. Just from that experience, I could tell that some of the things I was being taught in school as quality medicine, cleanliness, and good customer service weren’t being followed at every hospital I went into.

I was very lucky to have my rotation in outpatient care at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine with a clinician who guided me in the right direction. He was forthright with his advice on seeking a position in the field with the most important first step being “Make sure it’s an AAHA accredited practice.”   I learned that the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) was a group which had been in existence since 1933, that accreditation was voluntary and required voluntary inspection of your hospital on a regular basis, and that stringent standards had to be met to qualify for accreditation as an AAHA certified hospital.

Armed with my knowledge of AAHA and why it was important, I quickly discovered the differences when interviewing at several hospitals as I sought my first position as a veterinarian. I was fortunate to find what was at the time the only AAHA certified hospital in the Toledo, Ohio area, and walking in for my interview I quickly saw the difference in this hospital in comparison to the others I had gone to that were not AAHA accredited.  I gladly accepted a position at this hospital and spent 12 years learning and practicing high quality, advanced veterinary medicine, driven by the owner’s commitment to AAHA accreditation. When I decided a move to Chicago was imminent, I resolved to find another AAHA certified clinic, and was fortunate to land at my current position where I now help to coordinate our team to meet AAHA standards on a daily basis. Between my two AAHA certified clinics I have worked in for the last 22 years, I have experienced seven separate inspections, and have been proud to pass every one of them.

Today, only 12% of the veterinary clinics in North America are AAHA accredited, and all of these hospitals, including my own, undergo voluntary inspection every 3 years, meeting over 900 standards which seek to propel them to the forefront of modern veterinary medicine by requiring more continuing education than most state boards, requiring anesthetic monitoring equipment, reducing the risk of contagious diseases, requiring strict surgical technique to prevent complications, and providing guidelines for appropriate pain management, vaccinations, and client service to name but a few.

So, when we talk about our AAHA accreditation status, we are proud of it. We know that we work every day as champions of excellence in veterinary care, and we bring this to you and your family members in everything we do, from the moment you walk in until the moment you leave.   We hope you see the differences. You may not have known why our clinic is special, but hopefully this helps you understand a little bit more.