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

Niccole Bruno, DVM, founded blendVET to provide hands-on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) training for veterinary practices—and now blendVET’s “pathway events” at K–12 schools are showing students in underserved communities that they also have a place in vet med.

By Niccole Bruno


The following is an excerpt from “Unlocking the Potential of the Next Generation: blendVET’s Pathway Events Seek to Inspire Kids” in the February 2024 issue of Trends magazine.  

By Niccole Bruno, DVM 

Pathway events: Showing students they belong 

Through my organization, blendVET, my colleagues and I create programming that intentionally provides exposure and representation for students in underserved communities. We intentionally seek diversity within our faculty, as it is vital for students to see representation. 

Since 2022, we have hosted four pathway events that are a part of our program, “Believe and Belong in Veterinary Medicine.” We have worked with K-12 schools in underserved communities in Nashville, Orlando, Miami, St. Petersburg, and San Diego. 

Last September, blendVET partnered with AAHA for their annual conference, AAHA Con 2023, to host a pathway event at Logan Memorial Educational Campus (LMEC), a K–12 school with a 95% Latino student population. Students from LMEC are not only from the San Diego community—there is also a population of students who commute daily from Mexico. 

blendVET held classroom presentations for students in the second through fifth grades and immersion stations for 50 sixth-grade students. Over 200 students had the opportunity to participate in blendVET programming. 

We worked with the San Diego Humane Society, Hills Pet Nutrition, and over 20 volunteers from various roles and organizations in veterinary medicine to deliver a successful day of programming at LMEC. 

More than 200 students at San Diego’s K–12 Logan Memorial Educational Campus got hands-on training, demonstrations, and discussions about the path to veterinary medicine hosted by blendVET and AAHA in September 2023. 

Inspiring students—and their parents! 

Following the student program at LMEC, we hosted a virtual parent meeting where parents could see highlights from our day and learn ways to support their students. We offered these sessions in both English and Spanish. While many students at the school have adapted to English as their first language, their parents were grateful for the opportunity to choose which session to attend. 

No two veterinary professionals share the same pathway, and those underrepresented in this profession have a unique story of adversity and triumph. Many of the blendVET faculty are first-generation students, including Esmeralda Cano, DVM, and Mariacamila Garcia Estrella, DVM, MPH, who conducted our Spanish session. 

They told parents the stories of their own pathways into veterinary medicine as immigrants and first-generation students, respectfully educating them about local and national opportunities for their students to consider. 

The English session was hosted by myself and Natalia Gilbert, a current veterinary student at Western University and a native of the San Diego area. Natalia shared her experiences navigating veterinary medicine from a student perspective and the local opportunities she participated in. 

The impact of creating pathways to veterinary medicine 

We continue to be encouraged by how impactful these events are for students, parents, educators, the veterinary community, and even our faculty and volunteers. 

In addition to participating in the parent session, Natalia Gilbert, DVM candidate at Western University, class of 2025, served as a team captain for the sixth-grade students. She removed the communication barrier for one of her students, who preferred to speak Spanish exclusively due to her fluency in Spanish. 

After she spent the day navigating through each station, Gilbert shared her experience with us: 

“Volunteering for the blendVET event in San Diego was an impactful and profound experience because I was able to give back to my community in such a special way, representing my diverse background in veterinary medicine,” Gilbert said.  

“The opportunity to connect with students from backgrounds I can relate to economically, socially, and culturally is powerful because our example as volunteers who represent the people we serve is essential to being a tangible source of inspiration. 

“Volunteering for events like these is the active act of planting a seed in these student’s hearts and minds that says: If this person in front of me today could reach their goal to pursue a career in veterinary medicine despite the circumstances they have had to face in life (lack of exposure to the field they want to pursue due to lack of support, lack of example in community/current circle/home/generational wealth, etc.), I can too. I can be who I want to be, even in adversity.” 

The feedback that we have received from hosting these programs has been extremely gratifying. The students have expressed gratitude for our speaking with them; the hugs are bonuses. The parents are also grateful for the learning process, and it often reminds them of how they can be better pet parents. 

During one of our parent sessions, one parent told us her son left his surgical gown on for an hour after being home. She mentioned they had been considering giving up two pets due to financial constraints. Following the blendVET event, her son pleaded with her to allow the pets to stay because they were part of the family. 

At the end of the day, we sent the children home with a food sample and information on local veterinary care services opportunities. The parent expressed gratitude for the program—and mentioned that she intends to keep all four pets. This story resonated with me, as it reminded me of the impact of events like this on a micro and macro level. 

blendVET in 2024 

As we continue to navigate our programming, we learn best practices to remove barriers for students and their families to participate in our events and create sustainability in their academic curriculum. 

For 2024, blendVET has already committed to six programs nationwide. The experience of the human–pet bond is essential for all, despite socioeconomic barriers. That’s why we will look for opportunities to include veterinary services to improve access to veterinary care as we navigate each program. We thank our blendVET faculty, volunteers, and sponsors for their commitment to this vital work. 

We look forward to planning the third annual blendVET event at AAHA Con 2024 in National Harbor, Maryland. Please follow and on Instagram for more information about our student programming and future pathway events. 

This excerpt is from February 2024 Trends. Read the full article at 


Niccole Bruno, DVM, is the CEO and founder of blendVET™, a veterinary hospital certification program in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Bruno hopes that blendVET™ can create a space for continued learning for individuals and teams in DEIB. 

Photos courtesy of Niccole Bruno

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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