The common quality that inspires vets to become veterinarians is our love for animals and my story is no different. Since I can remember, all I wanted to do was become a veterinarian. My first encounter with animals was when my parents gifted my sisters and me a miniature poodle that we named Silver. I did my very best to go to every vet visit with Silver because I adored him, and I was curious to see what veterinarians do for animals. At every vet visit with Silver, even as I got older, I never once saw a veterinarian that looked like me. It was not until I was accepted into Tuskegee College of Veterinary Medicine that I saw my first Black veterinarian.
My experience at Tuskegee was life changing. Being around successful, Black veterinarians on a Historic Black College and University campus was truly inspiring and motivational. While at Tuskegee, I was no longer a minority, I was part of a diverse community of colleagues who all shared the same goal – to become great veterinarians. During my final year of vet school, I visited other veterinary schools for externships and met other students from other universities. At two of the three universities I visited, I was the only Black extern. I also had a few externships at small animal hospitals, and again I was the only minority. I don’t want to use the word discouraging to describe how I felt about the lack of diversity during my externships, but I was honestly disappointed.
After my amazing four years at Tuskegee, the reality of being around a community that looked like me soon became a distant memory. I was reintroduced to the reality of being a minority, but this time I was a doctor.
From my personal experience as a clinician, I have encountered instances where some clients did not want to see me as their veterinarian because I am black; I have been questioned on treatments and diagnostics; a client has told me their dog may not like me because I am dark skinned. I ask myself, “If I was not who I am would I have encountered this treatment?” Although I have had negative experiences, the moments of positive inspiration have been numerous. For example, I had an elderly, Black, female client, who became emotional when she first met me, telling me she had never seen a Black veterinarian before, and just thanked me for being in my position. I had a Black client, who was a mom, ask me if she could bring her son and daughter to meet me so she could show her children that black veterinarians do exist. I have also had Black elementary and secondary education teachers ask me if I can speak at their career day so I can hopefully inspire the next generation and show them that, yes, as a minority you can become a veterinarian.
Diversity and inclusion are not just words to be used to attract a demographic. These platforms are a doorway to bridge the gap of unfamiliarity and give qualified individuals opportunities to thrive in positions that previously have not been offered solely based on being different. Veterinary Medicine is one of the least diverse occupations in America. But why is that? What can be done to increase diversity in this field? As of 2023, Black veterinarians make up about 2% of the veterinary profession (1). Since its founding, Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, the only veterinary school on a Historic Black College and University, has graduated ~70% of Black Veterinarians (2). But, Tuskegee alone should not be the only veterinary school sending well prepared black doctors into the world of animal care. There are currently 33 AVMA accredited veterinary schools in the United States but several questions arise:
- Outside of Tuskegee College of Veterinary Medicine, how many minorities are being accepted into Vet School?
- Outside of Tuskegee College of Veterinary Medicine, how many minorities are graduating from Vet School?
- Outside of Tuskegee College of Veterinary Medicine, when minorities are accepted, do they have a support system to help them successfully navigate through vet school – Academically and Mentally?
As a profession we must acknowledge the lack of diversity and truly be open to becoming more inclusive. A huge step in the right direction will be with universities opening their doors to accept more minority demographics. Again, Tuskegee College of Veterinary Medicine cannot and should not be the only university producing the majority of America’s minority veterinary population. I remain hopeful that diversity and inclusion in this profession will grow, but I understand change takes time. In regard to the future of this profession, I hope it will include a diverse group of veterinarians who can look back at their veterinary education, reminisce on their classes and see the diversity of people who have come together for one common goal – to help treat and maintain the wellbeing of animals.