In 1977 members of the executive board of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) initiated efforts to create a specialty board in zoological medicine with a letter of intent to the American Board of Veterinary Specialists (ABVS) of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). An organizing committee was selected from a solicited pool of senior members of the AAZV. This 6 member organizing committee drafted a constitution, by-laws and an application document that were evaluated and approved by the executive board of the AAZV to be forwarded to the ABVS for consideration in 1979. The first application to the ABVS was denied with instructions for the organizing committee to consider affiliation with one of the existing specialty groups, particularly ACLAM or ACVIM. Joint deliberations with executive officers of ACLAM and ACVIM over the ensuing years determined that the zoo and wildlife specialty was sufficiently distinct from the established specialty colleges to warrant establishment of a separate specialty college.
In 1983 a second application to the ABVS for the formation of the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM) was provisionally approved and ratified by the AVMA House of Delegates. The initiating constitution approved by the ABVS stated that the ACZM would "... be the parent body for three or more sub-groups; a) Captive Wild Animals, b) Free-living Wild Animals, c) Fish and Aquatic Animals, and d) such others as might be appropriate in the future" [Article IV, Section 4]. Deliberations between the ABVS and the ACZM organizing committee established that the ACZM would be developed by charter diplomates. An invitation for experienced zoological veterinarians with 10 years or more of experience was made at the October, 1983 conference of the AAZV. The ABVS appointed an ad hoc committee to assist in establishing the ACZM. The original organizing committee prevailed upon the ABVS ad hoc committee to determine the number of charter diplomates and to select them from the 22 curricula vitae submitted in response to the call for candidates. The ABVS ad hoc committee chose to limit the charter diplomates to eight and selected Drs. Mitchell Bush, William Boever, Martin Dinnes, Murray Fowler, George Kollias, Kay Mehren, Richard Montali and Phillip Robinson as ACZM Charter Diplomates. This recommendation was ratified by the ABVS.
The first examination for ACZM diplomate status was administered in the fall of 1984 to six candidates. The College then proceeded to conduct annual examinations and special educational sessions in conjunction with the conferences of other specialty colleges and veterinary organizations.
In early 1985 in an effort to ensure that major areas of zoological medicine were relatively equally represented in examination construction and to set the framework for development of subgroups within zoological medicine in the future, five areas of concentration were established (aquatic, avian, general captive zoo, herptile, and wildlife). The certification examination was divided into sections with all candidates sitting all sections in the two day examination, but questions were segregated into discrete sections based on the five subgroup areas.
In 1988 the ABVS granted full recognition to the ACZM which at that time consisted of 25 diplomates, all having demonstrated competence in all five subgroup areas of zoological medicine.
In 1990, in an effort to encourage more candidates to sit the board examinations, the first ACZM Short Course was conducted at North Carolina State University. This week-long in depth board preparation course, limited to 15 students, was rapidly and fully subscribed and proved exceptionally popular. It has expanded to accommodate 25 students each year and now rotates venues between North Carolina State University, University of Wisconsin, and University of California at Davis.
In 1991, feeling the requirements for in-depth expertise in all five subgroup areas recognized by the ACZM might be inhibiting candidate recruitment, and after careful evaluation of the founding constitution mandating an umbrella structure to the college, the ACZM determined it had sufficient membership to implement changes in the examination to offer multiple examination formats. The decision to allow candidates to elect to be examined in depth in only one of the five major areas (Day 2 or Certifying Examination) after having passed a more general examination in all five areas (Day 1 or Qualifying Examination) was implemented. All Diplomates would still be certified as specialists in zoological medicine and not as specialists in other sub-specialties (i.e., avian, aquatic, etc.).
In 1992 ACZM guidelines for ACZM-approved residency programs and the expectations for successful training programs were finalized and incorporated. Currently there are 10 ACZM-approved residency programs. That year was the first time three separate Day 2 examinations were conducted (avian, wildlife, and general zoological).
The ACZM examinations were separated from the annual conference of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) for the first time in 1993. To ease exam logistics, particularly with practical exams, and to reduce the stress on candidates sitting the examinations, the College chose to conduct the examinations at a standardized site. Examination sites have included the Conservation and Research Center, Front Royal, Virginia, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, White Oak Conservation Center, Yulee, Florida, and North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 1996, with rapid growth of the college, it was appropriate to modify the ACZM's operational organization with the implementation of an executive committee that formally evaluates and votes on policy matters. The committee structure was also audited and restructured to improve communications and operational efficiency. The ACZM Secretary's office also developed an electronic database to facilitate tracking of candidates and to generate candidate and membership statistics.
During 1997, a formal Policies and Procedures Manual was developed and implemented, the first ACZM Ultra-short Course to accommodate potential candidates unable to devote a week to the Short Course was offered in conjunction with the annual conference of the AAZV, and the first volume of the ACZM Image Library CD ROMS was completed and made available for purchase.
During 2000, ACZM's first strategic planning retreat was held in North Carolina. A detailed strategic plan was developed for the future of the College along with an organizational mission statement and objectives. In November, 2000, the ACZM steering committee on veterinary curriculum held a workshop at White Oak Conservation Center. Representatives from all 31 AVMA accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States and Canada joined members from 6 allied professional veterinary organizations to deliberate on recommendations to help veterinary educators effectively provide appropriate offerings in zoological medicine in veterinary curricula. Results of this effort were published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association as ACZM's recommendations on veterinary curricula and will facilitate the ongoing efforts of North American veterinary colleges to provide their students with knowledge and skills relative to zoological medicine believed necessary for them to succeed in their profession.
In February 2005 ACZM held its second strategic planning retreat at Saleh Bamberger Ranch near Johnson City, Texas to build upon the first strategic planning document developed in 2000 and to create an action plan for the future of the College.