A conversation: Being Black in veterinary medicine

A candid, no-holds-barred conversation with two Black veterinary professionals about the challenges they’ve faced—and the strength and inspiration they’ve found—on their career paths.

By Terrisha Buckley

Since the licensure of the first African American/Black veterinarian in the United States in 1897, Dr. Augustus Nathaniel Lushington, veterinary medicine has come a long way with regards to technological advances, reach, and even accessibility. Nevertheless, with only 1.3% of veterinarians, 5.7% of veterinary technologists and technicians, and 3.7% of veterinary assistants and lab animal caretakers identifying as African American/Black according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the question becomes: How far have we actually come?  

With talks of opening a second veterinary college at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in 2026, the need for more diverse profession, and specifically more Black veterinarians, is a big topic. There’s a lot of discussion about increasing diversity in the profession, but what does it really feel like to be living it as a Black vet med professional today? 

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing two Black veterinary professionals—Brina Baker, DVM, an emergency veterinarian, and Imani Henlon, LVT, an emergency veterinary technician, both working with Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG)—to see what their lives were like when they entered the profession, how they’re doing now, and what advice they would give to others just starting out. 


Terrisha Buckley (TB): How would you compare the challenges of getting into the profession with the challenges now that you are in veterinary medicine? 

Brina Baker, DVM (BB): During the process of getting into veterinary medicine, I felt alone because I didn’t think veterinary medicine was a successful career for those in the Black community. Overall, the process was difficult, confusing, and extremely discouraging.  

It wasn’t until I worked for a Black female veterinarian in a general practice clinic [that my experience changed and] interacting with her made me believe I could become a veterinarian.  

Imani Henlon, LVT (IH): The challenge to get into veterinary medicine was harder than my journey through. Most wanted me to already have experience that I was looking to gain. Between classes and needing to work in order to support myself through school, I did not have much time to gain experience through externships.  

I was also frequently overlooked for paying jobs in veterinary medicine at the time because most employers were looking for people they did not have to train. It was troublesome trying to get my foot in the door, and I didn’t get an opportunity to work in a clinic until I was able to extern.  

That’s when it dawned on me how much of a privilege it is to be able to extern without the constraints of financial responsibility. Because of my work ethic and grasp on clinical knowledge, I excelled in clinics once I finally got an externship. To my surprise, I did so well in my first week as an extern that I was offered a full-time position once my rotation was complete. That was my first of many experiences where, once I was able to showcase my abilities, I was presented with bigger and better opportunities.   


TB: How well do you think your current employer is approaching topics around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)? How do you feel the profession as a whole is handling these topics? 

BB: There’s still a MAJOR lack of effort when it comes to DEI. More should be done aside from t-shirts and posting banners in the hospital. I would like to see more outreach to the inner-city schools. Another example: Be intentional with giving scholarships to the Black community. We’re not asking for favoritism for Black work, but [I’d like to be] seeing effort to reach the next generation to help more Black individuals take up space in veterinary medicine. 

[Curious about this topic? WATCH: blendVET’s DEIB focus inspires the next generation of veterinarians in underserved communities] 

IH: It feels like my current employer is trying. I think they’re doing a much better job than any private practice that I’ve worked for. My company initiates conversations and gives us (the employees) the space to express our feelings regarding the topics/actions behind DEI. 


TB: In your current position, do you feel supported as a staff member in your clinic?  

BB: I finally feel supported by my medical director. She listens and takes heed to my ideas and thoughts.  

IH: No, not always. I was a shift lead at my last hospital and had major moments where I lacked leadership support. I’m always told how competent and reliable I am by leadership. It’s nice to be seen that way, but I also feel taken advantage of. My skill level and ability to temporarily mend large issues should not be an excuse for leadership to leave said issues unaddressed for long periods of time. 


TB: Has veterinary medicine been good to you?  

BB: The short answer is, “No.” The stress from the clients is rough. The type of medicine you desire to practice is judged by the color of your skin. You have to take verbal abuse, and if you (as a Black woman) express how you feel, it will be portrayed as overly sensitive or dramatic.  

There’s a lack of safe spaces in the clinical setting and, outside of the profession you are not even considered a real doctor. I see a gradual positive change with my new employer which I am thankful for; however, more can be done.  

IH: I feel like I’ve made the best out of every opportunity that I’ve pursued in veterinary medicine. However, I cannot say that this profession has been on my side. As a young Black woman with a degree from an HBCU, I cannot say that I’ve been seen as an equal by my white counterparts.  

There are numerous instances where I’ve been overlooked for positions and opportunities by less-experienced or knowledgeable candidates simply for skin color. There have been many times where I’ve faced microaggressions and/or overheard extremely inappropriate conversations in regard to race or specific issues (i.e., Black Lives Matter) in the workplace. Even after making complaints, these problems were never addressed on a serious level.  

There’s a major disregard for the presence of Black and brown technicians in these predominantly white spaces that I’ve had to deal with on a daily basis. 


TB: What would you tell your past self as she was entering the profession? 

BB: Since this is a childhood dream, I will keep it simple and tell younger Brina that your desire to become a veterinarian is bigger than you.  

IH: You may lack experience now, and you may be denied opportunities because of it. That does not mean you’re not knowledgeable or that you’re incapable of developing great skills. The white coworkers that you’re “competing” against are running a different race than you, so keep your eyes in your lane. You have the rest of your life to show the world your greatness. Take your time and fall in love with the process. You’ll be fine.  

Further reading

WATCH: blendVET’s DEIB focus inspires the next generation of veterinarians in underserved communities (NEWStat)

It Takes a Village: Supporting DEIB Efforts in the Veterinary Field (Trends magazine)

LISTEN: Making Hard Things Easy to Talk About: Interview with Dr. Cherice Roth (Central Line: The AAHA Podcast)


Terrisha Buckley is a freelance writer who also works in biomedical research. She enjoys writing about the veterinary medical profession and sharing new information with those interested in the field including veterinary professionals.

Photos courtesy of Imani Henlon and Brina Baker

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.




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