It has been another incredible week here in DC! We happened to schedule our time here perfectly to enjoy Pet Night on Capitol Hill where I got to meet Spumoni and Zamboni. I mean, come on!
We visited the USDA and met 14 veterinarians that all play an important role in keeping our food safe to eat and our food animals protected from disease. And we even enjoyed champagne in the Library of Congress after an awards ceremony for federally funded scientific research that has changed our world.
But it was a conversation we had back in the office that has stayed with me most.
Dr. Lisa Greenhill, Associate Executive Director for Institutional Research and Diversity at AAVMC, was generous enough to meet with us and discuss diversity (or maybe more appropriately, lack thereof) and why it is important to the veterinary profession.
Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in this field but I was moved by my conversation with Dr. Greenhill and wanted to share what I learned, knowing that in an hour we could not even scratch the surface of this incredibly complicated and important topic.
She spoke about there being three types of veterinary or potential veterinary students:
- The called- this group includes the majority of veterinary students, who like myself, had an innate sense from when they were very young that all they wanted to do in life was be a veterinarian.
- The recruited- this group includes individuals who found their passion for veterinary medicine later in life, where certain life events had to take place for them to realize this is what they wanted to do as a career.
- The muted- this group, like the called group, always wanted to be a veterinarian, however, due to many possible reasons, this call was muted over time.
Understanding why the muted group exists can start to explain why there is such a lack of diversity in veterinary schools. We discussed many different scenarios including:
- Lack of exposure; I was lucky enough to grow up with animals, but not every family can afford to own a pet, and for many kids, they may not meet their first veterinarian until much later in life.
- Dissuasion and cultural differences; In some cultures, veterinarians are not as well respected as other careers such as a becoming a lawyer or doctor, and some kids may grow up hearing repeatedly that they should pursue something else.
- Lack of role models; Kids often pick the careers they are drawn to at an early age by meeting someone they connect with or seeing someone on TV and wanting to be like them. If a kid grows up never meeting a veterinarian that either looks like them or came from a similar background as them, they will lack this role model.
- Lack of opportunity; Many veterinary schools require significant amount of hours working with animals and all require high academic standards. But maybe this has excluded some people from being able to apply because instead of being able to volunteer, they had to work whatever job they could get. And maybe that job added stress and took up a lot of their time so their grades suffered. We talked about how this issue is bigger than just veterinary medicine application standards and goes back to the differences in education available to minorities starting at a very young age.
I think its safe to say, the road to veterinary medicine is unfortunately and unfairly more difficult for some people than others.
If as a community we are able to reach and keep more of this muted group and let them be part of the called as they were always meant to be, we can hopefully start to change the face of veterinary medicine.
Personally, I wanted to know if there was anything I (or you) could do, and Dr. Greenhill gave some excellent suggestions:
- Many veterinary schools have outreach programs that go in to elementary schools in communities that might lack veterinary access and educate the kids on what we do and why it’s a great profession- join them!
- Become a member of VOICE (Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity) and learn how you and your school can improve the campus climate to be welcoming to all people.
- Go out and work with different communities and understand their specific needs.
- Reflective journaling- this will increase your ability to communicate and engage people that you have never worked with before.
For more information and discussion on diversity in veterinary medicine, please take some time to enjoy this wonderful podcast put on by Dr. Greenhill.