Highlighting the path to vet med for members of the BIPOC community

How the Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition is actively working to increase access to educational opportunities in the industry for underrepresented groups.

By Kristen Green Seymour

Becoming a licensed veterinarian is a process rife with challenges. As they say, getting into vet school is one thing, but getting out as a graduate is even harder. And affording it? That’s something else entirely. 

But for members of the BIPOC community and other underrepresented groups interested in veterinary medicine, those hurdles often aren’t even the first ones they encounter. The potential challenges may begin the moment they decide they want to embark on this path and fail to see doctors who represent them in the industry, leaving them to wonder if there’s a place for them in vet med. 

Less than 3% of veterinarians identify as Black and 90% of veterinary professionals identify as white,” said Courtney Campbell, DVM, DACVS-SA, chair of the Communications committee for the Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition (DVMC).  

These demographic statistics are mismatched with the US population. This mismatch between those who seek veterinary care and the veterinary health professionals working in the industry creates challenges.” 

Three pillars of support 

Because of this mismatch, the DVMC has a mission to encourage more BIPOC students to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, said Campbell.  

“The educational pipeline is replete with talented individuals who have the ability to drastically enrich the profession,” he said. “Encouraging all people, particularly those who have been historically marginalized, is one of the main missions of the DVMC.” 

And that encouragement isn’t just lip service: To make sure these future veterinarians know that yes, there absolutely is a place for them, the DVMC has focused its efforts around three main pillars: educational and travel grants, scholarships, and internships.  

And the DVMC has already provided plenty of support since it was founded in 2020. 

“The DVMC has awarded travel grants to five recipients at major conferences including VMX, Western Veterinary Conference, and AVMA for three years in a row,” he said, adding that these travel grants enable people who wouldn’t normally have these opportunities to network, find fellowship, and “learn from industry leaders.”  

To expand access to veterinary medicine education to traditionally underserved and underrepresented groups, Campbell said the DVMC has also partnered with VetAHead, an exotic animal continuing education platform, and will award up to 10 individuals annually with The VETAHEAD Essentials Membership, providing access to on-demand training ZooMed training courses, e-books, medical illustrations, an emergency calculator for different species, a monthly newsletter, and more.  

Also, in cooperation with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the DVMC has awarded five undergraduate students $20,000 for their junior and senior years, said Campbell.  

“Scholarships help to decrease financial barriers, which is one of the main impediments in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine,” he said. “In fact, one of our initial scholarship recipients recently was accepted to veterinary school.” 

As we know, internships in veterinary medicine can truly impact a student’s career in the field, and Campbell said their internship program continues to grow and evolve.  

“This strategic valence was created to support DVMC scholars and other underrepresented students with paid internship opportunities with our sponsoring organizations,” he said. “This effort also has room to expand—both to reach more students and include more potential employers.” 

A substantial, indirect impact 

In addition to growing these specific programs, Campbell said that the DVMC’s goal is to play a greater role in increased BIPOC enrollment in veterinary school in the future.  

“Although veterinary school admissions boards will have the most direct effect on veterinary enrollment, the DVMC can have a substantial, indirect impact,” he said.  

“The DVMC will continue to decrease financial barriers that continue to hinder veterinary students from pursuing a veterinary education through scholarships.” 

Additionally, he said, “As the number of DVMC travel grant awardees continues to grow, the networking opportunities will have an exponentially increasing impact on knowledge and professional connections; both of which enable prospective students to navigate the veterinary admissions process.”  

Many hands, light(er) work 

To accomplish these goals, the organization counts an impressive roster of companies and organizations as partners, including Antech, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Boehringer Ingelheim, National Association for Black Veterinarians, Mars Veterinary Health, Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association, Royal Canin, Hill’s, Zoetis—and, most recently, Chewy Health. 

DVMC welcomed Chewy Health’s president, Mita Malhotra, to its board of directors earlier this month, and received a $100,000 charitable donation from Chewy Health to help in its DEIB efforts. Malhotra said the DVMC’s three pillars of support were a big factor in why Chewy selected the organization as a partner.  

“Those three focus areas can meaningfully remove barriers for those who are trying to break into this profession,” she said. And that aligns nicely with Chewy’s objectives. 

“DVMC envisions a world where everyone can bring their authentic selves, be the best version of themselves, and contribute to shared goals of advancing pet health and wellness,” Malhotra said. “At Chewy, we share this vision as we prioritize growth, development and empowering our team to meaningfully impact the future of pet healthcare at the individual and industry levels. But we recognize that we cannot do this alone. Partnering with organizations like DVMC is essential to truly making a long-term commitment to increasing representation, inclusion and belonging throughout the veterinary profession and the industry at large.” 

Campbell said the DVMC also wants to leverage these strategic partnerships to provide internships, employment, and professional growth opportunities.  

“Internships will have the greatest impact on retention of great talent within the profession,” he said, “however, internships can also have a dual effect on recruitment as well.” 

Overall, he believes the future of the DVMC is bright and motivated. “Our members continue to explore opportunities to have an impact on less discussed areas in veterinary medicine including small business development, investment, and clinical medicine in unique species.”  

Campbell encourages all underrepresented groups to visit the DVMC website, apply for travel grants, pursue DVMC undergraduate scholarships, and attend their receptions at any of the major conferences—and he also hopes more people will take the opportunity to get involved with the organization.  

“Every DVMC Board member sits on one of the select DVMC committees, however more volunteerism is needed. Committees include Communications, Scholarship, Internship, and Finance,” he said. “Those who are committed to the cause and want to help with our mission are encouraged to inquire at info@diversifyvetmed.org.”   

 

Photo credit: © AzmanL E+ via Getty Images Plus    

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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