Blendvet helps diverse students see themselves in veterinary medicine
Niccole Bruno, DVM, founder and CEO of BlendvetⓇ, says she was inspired to start her organization after giving her first diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) lecture during the COVID-19 pandemic. She received many comments afterward thanking her for sharing her story, in which she recalls the importance of “seeing herself” in the profession as she decided if she would pursue veterinary medicine.
She saw that there was still much to be done to help underrepresented students and veterinary professionals feel welcome. Blendvet was born of her vision to “create a program which places the focus of veterinary medicine on the people of our profession, and to reignite our passion around serving our communities and the pets in a profession that we all love dearly.”
A groundbreaking DEIB certification
As part of her groundbreaking venture, Bruno developed a hospital training and certification program to help veterinary teams learn about the importance of diversity among team members. Participants in the program learn how to make all members of the practice team, along with their clients, feel welcome and ensure that they are treated with “respect and inclusivity.”
In addition to providing tremendous positive benefits to teams, the certification programs also help to fund the other main component of Blendvet, veterinary pipeline events to show children and young adults that a career in vet med is possible for them.
Opening the pipeline to underrepresented young people
BlendvetⓇ-certified hospitals are required to participate in community service such as career days, mentoring, or shadowing. Leading the way, Bruno and the organizations’ chief operating officer, Genine Ervin-Smith, DVM, MPH, have started orchestrating pipeline events in conjunction with major veterinary conferences.
Their mission is to “cultivate thriving veterinary teams that enable individuals to be their authentic selves, build trusting relationships, and belong within a diverse community empowered to increase the pipeline of underrepresented minorities (URMs) within veterinary medicine.”
Most recently, they were in Orlando, Florida, for the Veterinary Meeting & Expo (VMX) in January 2023. VMX is one of the largest veterinary conferences in the world, and this year boasted a record-breaking 29,000 attendees. With many Blendvet veterinarians, technicians, and other educators in town for the conference, Blendvet led an event on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday called “A Day of Service—Believe and Belong in Veterinary Medicine.”
The attendees were local middle school and high school students with an interest in veterinary medicine, along with their parents. All were treated to a free day of inspiration, information, and individualized attention from leading voices in our profession.
The impressive lineup of veterinary mentors shared advice about getting into college and veterinary school and gave examples of what a career in veterinary medicine could look like. Students participated in hands-on activities where they gowned and gloved for surgery, learned suture patterns, practiced CPR, reviewed common toxins to avoid in dogs, and much more. All of this was presented by an ethnically and racially diverse group of professionals who have excelled in their fields and who want others to know that they can do it too.
A life-changing experience . . . and a “really long tapeworm”
Cassie Stevic, a student participant in the event and an aspiring veterinarian, said that although she has always seen herself as a future veterinarian, listening to the speakers made it feel “a little easier” to her. She loved the veterinary stations, particularly the general practitioner one, where she got to see a “really long tapeworm” and a rabbit heart.
Stevic was also very happy to learn of opportunities that are available to her now so that she can start working toward her dream. Her father, Don Stevic, shared that the event was very well done and informative. The speakers answered questions he hadn’t even known to ask, and they gave him a better sense of the path his daughter would be on. He appreciated the dedication of the speakers and the stories they shared, and he said they gave him a better idea of how to help his daughter along the way.
The key component? People like YOU
Bruno has plans to continue organizing pipeline events along with veterinary conferences and any interested veterinary institution to help encourage more students, especially underrepresented minorities, to see themselves in veterinary medicine.
She stresses that the involvement of local veterinary practices is a “key component” of the pipeline events. Bruno doesn’t want to just inspire the students and then leave. Rather, she wants to make connections between the students and local veterinarians who have volunteered to mentor and provide shadowing opportunities.
Through a partnership with VetSetGo, students at VMX were provided scholarships for virtual training programs, books to help them prepare for a career in veterinary medicine, and an opportunity to attend the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine camp this coming summer.
Bruno wants students to bring their unique backgrounds and experiences with them for the betterment of veterinary medicine as a whole. She hopes students see that a degree in veterinary medicine is “just the beginning of our careers, as there are a multitude of avenues to pursue and opportunities for veterinarians to pivot into.”
On the flip side, she wants veterinary professionals to know that there are many ways they can get involved in this important work. They can complete the DEIB training and get certified along with their hospital or as an individual, attend a Blendvet presentation, volunteer at a pipeline event, or mentor an aspiring veterinarian.
Together, current and future veterinary professionals can change the way we practice to be more inclusive and create environments where team members, as well as clients, feel that they belong.
Emily Singler, VMD, writes a monthly column for NEWStat exploring One Health and the human-animal bond. She is a 2001 graduate of Penn State University and a 2005 graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She has worked in shelter medicine, private practice, and as a relief veterinarian. She currently works as a veterinary writer and consultant and has her own blog, www.vetmedbaby.com.
Photo courtesy of Blendvet.
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.