AAHA's DE&I commitment: A more inclusive world

On June 16, 2022, the American Animal Hospital Association released an official statement supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the veterinary profession. It advocates for strong leadership, teamwork, sustainable long-term initiatives, and collaboration with other groups to promote diverse, equitable, and inclusive practices. 

The association’s DE&I Committee and the AAHA Board of Directors have made other moves to further DE&I, including releasing official position statements on Black Lives Matter, Stop AAPI Hate—condemning attacks on Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI)—and making Juneteenth an official association holiday.  

Most recently, on August 18, Chief Executive Officer Garth Jordan signed the Gender Identity Bill of Rights (GIBOR) for the veterinary profession on behalf of AAHA. 

Answering the DE&I call 

In a summer 2022 independent survey of veterinary professionals commissioned by AAHA, half of the 2,128 total respondents said they already have ways to incorporate DE&I into their practices; and another 25% said they either want to implement DE&I measures eventually or they simply don’t know where to start. 

The Connexity conference in Nashville provides an answer, with DE&I-focused sessions on Friday, September 16, led by powerful voices in the movement toward a more inclusive world. 

Plan your Connexity experience with the full schedule at aaha.org/connexity and in the mobile app. 

Friday, September 16 

10:00–10:50 am CT | The Great Resignation: Exploring the influencing factors that impact veterinary medicine 

There’s a reason the turnover rate of veterinarian jobs is double that of medical doctors, according to Niccole Bruno, DVM, and that reason is toxic culture. After earning her DVM from the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, going into practice, and spending more than eight years in practice leadership, Bruno saw firsthand the difference that it makes to intentionally recruit and retain a diverse team that is encouraged to thrive. 

She completed the Purdue University Diversity and Inclusion program in 2020, and founded BLEND, a veterinary hospital certification program in DEI&B—diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. In this session, she’ll be sharing her insights about how retaining staff has been challenged during the pandemic, how toxicity contributes to employee turnover, and the importance of DEI&B efforts to improve practice culture. 

11:00–11:50 am CT | BLEND: A new initiative in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging   

This session will take a deep dive into the ways a DEI&B mindset helps improve cultural competence; empower leaders to build and manage their teams with inclusivity and empathy; and form relationships with clients to forge unity, trust, and awareness.  

“I’m so excited to share BLEND at Connexity 2022,” Bruno told NEWStat. “AAHA has been an avid supporter of our program from Day 1, and I appreciate the opportunity to provide continuing education in the DEI&B space.” 

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Niccole Bruno, DVM, (left) and Genine R. Ervin-Smith, DVM, MPH (right)

 

1:30–2:20 pm CT | Discussing Strategies for a Successful Team Culture 

Think it's expensive to build a successful team? Genine R. Ervin-Smith, DVM, MPH, will provide valuable tips on how to inexpensively create a successful team culture by sharing insights from her experience as a veterinarian, investigative analyst, and environmental public health expert.

2:30–3:20 pm CT | Workshop Concepts: Empathic Communication—Incorporating a BLEND mindset into practice

There’s no better way to learn than to experience it! This workshop will incorporate the art of empathic communication and tips to ensure it's practicality is used to create safe spaces through being heard and active listening. Genine R. Ervin-Smith, DVM, MPH, whose veterinary career has included clinical practice, community activism, and leadership roles with Banfield Pet Hospitals, Virbac US, and Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), will be joined by co-facilitator Niccole Bruno, DVM.

3:50–4:40 pm CT | DE&I Panel Discussion

Do you find DE&I discussions intimidating? You’re not alone, said AAHA Learning Programs Manager Judy Rose Lanier, CVPM, CVA, CSM—that's why this panel will include opportunities to participate anonymously, with the use of Mentimeter, so attendees will be able to participate in real-time polling from their phones. 

“We want this to be a safe space, where everyone feels comfortable to share and ask questions,” she said. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion is something we all as individuals need to educate ourselves on—and if it’s not uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right.”

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Omar Farias, VMD, and Cherice Roth, DVM

 

In addition to Bruno and Ervin-Smith, the DE&I panel includes Omar Farias, VMD, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and currently serves as a senior manager at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, as well as president-elect and a board member representing the Pride Veterinary Medical Community (PrideVMC) for the Mark Morris Institute.

Also on hand will be Cherice Roth, DVM, who is a favorite on Central Line: The AAHA Podcast. In addition to being a veterinarian, Roth has a master’s degree in biochemistry; she is the chief veterinary officer of Fuzzy Pet Health; and she’s a children’s book author championing cultural representation in STEM fields. She is a strong advocate for veterinary virtual care, and she’ll be presenting her own session on Accessing Digital Pet Care at Connexity on Saturday. Learn more about Roth in these Central Line podcast episodes: “Making Hard Things Easy to Talk About” and Telehealth Increases Accessibility—and Visibility—of Veterinary Care.”

Will Draper, DVM

 

Rounding out the panel will be Will Draper, DVM, who is a director on the AAHA Board of Directors, and the founder of Atlanta-based Village Vets, along with his wife, Françoise Tyler, DVM. 

"When I applied to the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1987, it was the only school to which I applied. Like many other young Black pre-vet students at that time, it was understood that [this] was my only realistic shot at acceptance,” Draper wrote in the March 2022 Trends magazine. “Back then, when you met another Black veterinarian—be it at a conference, on vacation, or at the local supermarket—you were 99.9% sure that they’d also received their DVM from that same storied institution . . . and you were almost always correct.” 

But today’s young Black veterinary professionals are seeing more opportunities. It’s a “small wave” toward more diversity, Draper said, “There is still more to do. We must make it a conscious and deliberate act to invite diversity, inclusivity, and acceptance into our workspaces. Any qualified individual deserves the same opportunity to sit down for an interview. Applicants need to know—from your employment ad and from your lips—that you welcome anyone to the table that can do the job.” 

4:40–5:40 pm CT | DE&I Meet and Greet 

Directly following the panel, there will be an informal meet-and-greet for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up in front of the whole room to get one-on-one time with the panelists and each other. It’s likely that the day’s discussions will raise even more questions than get answered, but it’s important to pursue these difficult conversations in the spirit of personal and professional growth, said Lanier. 

“If you want to be that five-star practice, different than everyone else, you have to be open to more diverse ideas,” she said. “This is especially important during the hiring process.”  

And a DE&I-focused culture not only increases feelings of wellbeing among the team, by encouraging individuals to feel comfortable bringing their true selves and their ideas to the table, but it impacts clients as well.  

All are welcome  

A simple sign on the door might make someone who otherwise was hesitant to bring their partner to an appointment, or to dress as they want to dress, feel less anxious about showing up authentically. 

“Those three little words ‘all are welcome’ go so far—with your team, with your clients,” Lanier said, “because it means that they are welcome.” 

The hope is that Connexity attendees will find a welcoming, safe space to delve into these important topics during the conference. Meanwhile, in their off-time, Bruno and her team at BLEND will be visiting a local Nashville elementary school.  

“It’s an opportunity to connect with the local community, show representation, and help improve pipeline development for underrepresented minorities to our profession,” Bruno said. 

Which is a good reminder that the willingness to engage in these hard discussions in order to build a better, more inclusive veterinary practice culture today is laying the groundwork for the future of veterinary team members tomorrow. 

 

Connexity is September 14–17, 2022 in Nashville. Learn more at aaha.org/connexity. 

 

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