About diversity in Veterinary Medicine

Diversity in the Veterinary Profession

The veterinary profession must do better. Whether it’s working to attract more veterinary students from underrepresented populations, doing more in getting veterinary professionals up to speed in cultural competency, increasing understanding that DEI makes good business sense, fosters happier employees, and benefits animal and public health, there is much work to be done.

Following the death of George Floyd, ten DEI affinity organizations came together to address systemic racism in veterinary medicine and to challenge the profession to do better. Their letter and list of actionables was brought to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and has subsequently been endorsed by VMAs, veterinary colleges, individual veterinarians, industry, and others committed to taking action. The actionables are broadly grouped into seven categories appropriate to any organization or individual who wishes to advance DEI in veterinary medicine. In addition, they produced a video featuring the personal stories of 387 veterinarians and veterinary students who have experienced racism and discrimination.

The good news is that positive movement is being made, although it’s important to remember that the journey has barely begun. It’s also important to note that marginalized colleagues should not be expected to do the work on behalf of others. It’s up to those who are privileged to effect change.

The AVMA has implemented new goals within the organization. Together with the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), they’ve created the Commission for a Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Veterinary Profession. Made up of representatives from several veterinary organizations and industry, the Commission aims to promote DEI within the profession, expand the student pipeline, encourage welcoming workplaces, as well as encourage and assist VMAs and animal health companies to measure and improve DEI. AVMA has also developed continuing education programs, podcasts, and toolboxes to foster a more culturally conscious profession.

For some time, the AAVMC has been placing importance on diversity and inclusion as it pertains to veterinary student enrollment. They are actively working to attract a more racially and ethnically diverse student population that is more reflective of society and their efforts have resulted in the diversity of the U.S. student population increasing to just over 20% as of 2021. But even at that rate, it will take a long time to change the make-up of the profession.

Colleges of veterinary medicine across the U.S. have also increased their commitment to an inclusive institutional climate by preparing graduates to work in an increasingly diverse world, hiring diverse faculty, and developing programs to attract a more diverse student body.

What can I do?

Unfortunately racism has been built into the structure of the United States from the clearing of the indigenous people to make way for European settlers to the enslavement of black people forcibly transplanted from Africa. The abolition of slavery was over 150 years ago, but the subsequent history of the United States includes passing laws and adopting business practices that have made it far harder for African-americans to benefit from the prosperity of the US economy.

Many people feel that racism is wrong, and that there should be no discrimination against people because of the color of their skin. However this type of discrimination has been so intimately woven into the fabric of American society for so long, that sometimes it is hard for white people to identify when they are acting in a way that conveys negative signals to black people.

There has been very little education for white people to understand the lived experience of being black in America. That is why one of the first steps in becoming effective at improving the diversity of the veterinary profession is for people who have been more privileged to learn more about how their own actions might inadvertently be perpetuating a lack of diversity by making people of color feel that they do not belong.

One place to start being a more effective ally to people of color is with the AVMA book list. Or watch the video on this webpage :A Profession in Crisis" from the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Society.

If you want to go further, try the LinkedIn Diversity webinar series.

One of the most interesting experiences is to try your hand at a Harvard Implicit Association test on Race. It can reveal attitudes that you were unaware that you had.