Promoting diversity within veterinary medicine

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During his presentation at the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, Dr. Charles McMillan, as he calls it, “the elephant in the room” on the lack of diversity in veterinary medicine and the provision of workable solutions.

It’s no surprise that the veterinary profession lacks diversity, as is painfully evident when we look around veterinary class or faculty at veterinary schools. The work on creating diversity is a joint discussion in the veterinary admissions boards. But what is the full benefit of diversity for the job and how do we get there? Charles McMillan, DVM, Veterinarian at IndeVets in Atlanta, Georgia, presented at the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference (ACVC) a detailed overview of why diversity is so important to the health of a profession, what hurdles we have to becoming more diverse, and what we can do to promote diversity in veterinary medicine.

While the veterinary customer base is becoming more diverse and the United States population is expected to be a minority majority by 2040, the veterinary profession itself does not reflect that diversity, but why is diversity important? Research has consistently shown that various companies have significantly increased productivity, increased tax performance, improved decision-making, and developed solutions to complex problems. 1-3

McMillan stated that there are two kinds of diversity at play in these situations. Inherent diversity is used to describe characteristics we are born with (gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation). Acquired diversity is used to describe characteristics that we gain from experience. It is important to promote both inherent and acquired diversity in veterinary medicine. But why do these aspects of diversity lead to innovation and productivity? Diversity influences the way we think and our approach to problem solving. A diverse population of veterinarians will see the same problem in different ways, broadening our approach and promoting innovation.

It is a fact that children of all genders and races often want to become veterinarians. Then why is there such a lack of diversity in the veterinary profession when a diverse population of children wants to become veterinarians? McMillan explained several reasons for this and suggested that these hurdles should be addressed. One reason for this is the lack of diverse role models in the veterinary profession. He references an earlier article he wrote in dvm360® stating that the six existing veterinary schools did not accept black students prior to the founding of Tuskegee University in 1944

Without a large number of ethnic role models, the inability to see “yourself” or your ethnicity in a career pursued is daunting and powerful, and often leads prospective students to different careers. Society, consciously or unconsciously, amplifies this effect by allowing stereotypes about who should or shouldn’t be a veterinarian to discourage marginalized prospective students and make them abandon their desire to become a veterinarian.

Even for the underrepresented students who continue to pursue their desire to attend veterinary school, McMillan said, data from the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) confirmed that selection bias affected the admissions process.5 The disadvantaged groups during the admissions process included underrepresented Races and ethnic groups, women, Pell Fellows, first generation students, and candidates from rural communities aspiring to return to rural communities.

This selection bias during the veterinary admissions process has both direct and indirect influences. Not only could bias directly affect the selection process, whether through conscious or unconscious bias, but it has also been shown that underrepresented minorities have greater difficulty in finding mentors and gaining research or animal experience, which indirectly affects their evaluation based on selection criteria.6 The financial burden on veterinary training can widen this gap and discourage applicants from applying or accepting offers. Regarding selection bias, McMillan also noted that while women make up the majority of veterinary occupations in the United States, white male applicants are more likely to receive admission than any other group

Often a certain number of hours of animal experience is required and the application process is so competitive that mentorship can be beneficial. Because underrepresented groups often have great difficulty in getting animal experience lessons and mentoring, we inadvertently narrow the prospects of these groups simply by the nature of the intrinsically biased admission criteria. This is not to say that these criteria are unimportant, but that they influence the lack of diversity and solutions must be found that neither directly nor indirectly result in a selection bias in the application process.

McMillan also discussed with attendees that for the currently underrepresented veterinarians currently in their profession, retention is also a diversity impact. Minority vets run the risk of feeling disenfranchised and unheard. In some cases, minorities are passed over for promotion, underpaid and less recruited. Instead, diversity in leadership creates an environment in which underrepresented minorities feel that they are getting ahead in their job beyond the staff level.

Knowledge is the first step, but how do we achieve more diversity in our job? McMillan described an active approach that sought to create an environment of inclusivity by making it easier for members of marginalized groups to seek careers in veterinary medicine. Practices and guidelines can help with this change. Mentoring and sponsorship programs should be available to help minority applicants early in the process, and active minority recruitment should be done in the preparatory phase of training. McMillan reminded attendees to nurture and protect prospective students and to protect them from stereotypes, prejudices and prejudices of society that can further marginalize underrepresented students. We should consciously strive to ensure that the diversity of the profession corresponds to the society and the customer base it serves. We have to aggressively bring about change in order to promote diversity in our profession. In the end, our job will be better for it.

Dr. Packer is certified in Neurology by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and is an Associate Veterinarian at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Lafayette, Colorado. She is also the founder and owner of Pre-Veterinary Mentoring Group, LLC, through which she mentors pre-veterinary medicine students on their way to veterinary school, and is the founder and owner of The Pocket Neurologist, LLC, a veterinarian. Teleconsultation service to the veterinarian.


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