Practice Without Prejudice

The work of improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the veterinary field is an ongoing work in progress. Some groups are working hard to make sure this work is moving forward in the technician space as well. 

Working to Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Among Technicians

by Linda Childers

When Ian Scholer, DVM, a veterinarian and practice owner at Hilltop Animal Hospital in Evans, Georgia, saw data detailing a lack of diversity in the veterinary technology field, he decided to take action to ensure his own practice reflected the demographics of his clientele.

CS5.jpg
Ian Scholer, DVM,
and his wife, Megan.

Hoping to make the veterinary field more inclusive, Scholer, and his wife, Megan, an educator, founded the nonprofit Vets of All Colors last year. Their goal is to encourage diversity in the veterinary field through local school outreach and scholarships for minority high school seniors.

As witnessed by the Scholers, the field of veterinary medicine remains one of the least diverse professions. According to US Bureau of Labor statistics, 88% of vet techs are women and 92% are White, while 10% are Latinx, 3% are Black, and only about 1% are Asian American.

Unfortunately, these numbers don’t reflect the rapidly changing and increasingly diverse needs of pet owners. A 2019 study by the pet reports market research firm Packaged Facts found that between 2008 and 2018, the increase of the number of Latinx, Black, Asian, and other multicultural pet owners was five times higher than the increase in the number of non-Latinx White pet owners.

CS5.jpg

“We want to empower children to explore
the veterinary field and gain meaningful experiences.”

—MEGAN SCHOLER, VETS OF ALL COLORS

Vets of All Colors features a diverse board of directors that strives to provide inclusive outreach to kids in 88 schools in two districts in the Augusta, Georgia area.

“We want to empower children to explore the veterinary field and gain meaningful experiences,” Megan Scholer says. “We encourage all veterinarians to consider becoming involved with their local high schools and colleges to build relationships with potential future employees.”

The Vets of All Colors program begins with kindergarten outreach that includes a donation bundle with early reading books and playsets. “Early literacy is top priority for young learners, and we made sure our chosen books feature diverse characters in vet med. We also offer role-play kits in the bundle because imaginative/dramatic role play is part of Georgia’s kindergarten learning standard,” Scholer says. “Middle school learners still need concrete learning experiences, so we offer live programs that come to their school. The University of Georgia partnered with us through their Dog Doctors program, although COVID halted programs last year.”

CS5.jpg
April Panpipat, LVT

For high school students, Vets of All Colors offers free online content through ACT (Animal Care Technologies) and online training, with modules ranging from kennel and grooming to veterinary assistant certification.

Although their nonprofit is still new, Scholer says they’re already seeing a growing interest from a diverse group of students who hadn’t previously considered a career in veterinary medicine.

“Our nonprofit’s student leader, a rising senior in high school, is currently enrolled in the ACT courses and recently earned a part-time position at a local small animal hospital. Her feedback has been priceless as we continue to develop our program,” Scholer says. “Lastly, there are a few national organizations out there who are also providing amazing outreach that’s available and ready to go.”

Scholer says one excellent resource for veterinary practices is Purdue University’s League of VetaHumanz, an inclusive “veterinary superhero league” that works with universities and organizations to diversify the veterinary workforce. The program offers preschool through twelfth grade training opportunities for aspiring veterinarians, including virtual vet lessons, children’s books, and an online game.

As a certified educator, Scholer also understands the importance of mentors and knows that having an effective mentor can increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover.

“In the world of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in vet med, having a mentor is exceedingly important,” Scholer says. “I think all veterinary professionals should be trained on how to mentor rising vet tech professionals, with particular attention to the intricacies included in DEI that are needed to successfully hire and retain professionals who may not always look like them.”

Developing a Zero-Tolerance Policy Against Racism

As the hospital manager at Animal Medical Center of Seattle, April Panpipat, LVT, knows the importance of maintaining a diverse and inclusive veterinary practice. As a woman of Asian descent, Panpipat also knows what it’s like to experience discrimination in the workplace.

“I still remember an incident that happened 15 years ago when I was working in a veterinary practice in Nevada and a client refused to let me take their dog to the exam area in the back because I’m Asian,” Panpipat says. While she also witnessed more subtle forms of racism, including offensive comments and racial stereotyping, none of the incidents were ever addressed or discussed by Panpipat’s previous employer.

AAHA’s DEVTP Program

Did you know that AAHA’s Distance Education Veterinary Technology Program (DEVTP) was created in partnership with Dallas College more than 20 years ago? The DEVTP program makes the process of becoming a credentialed veterinary technician more convenient, especially for students who are already working in a practice and want to work toward becoming credentialed.

Learn more at aaha.org/DEVTP

Today, Panpipat is part of a practice that values diversity and inclusion. “All of our staff are required to undergo interactive online diversity training offered by traliant.com,” Panpipat says. “In addition to learning about topics including unconscious bias and cultural competence, employees learn the importance of reporting discrimination and know that meaningful action will be taken.”

Panpipat notes that while retention is already an issue with vet techs who often experience low pay, compassion fatigue, and burnout, the inability to establish an inclusive work culture can also result in high turnover. “We want all of our vet techs to know they are valued and supported,” Panpipat says. “We place a strong emphasis on each employee’s wellbeing and believe it’s crucial to have a respectful workplace.”

CS5.jpg
Natalie Pedraja, LVT

Natalie Pedraja, LVT, an employee at Animal Medical Center, agrees the practice is one of the most diverse places she’s ever worked. Pedraja, who is Latina, says at her previous jobs, she was one of a handful of minorities employed in the veterinary field and that it wasn’t uncommon for her to experience subtle racism. “I applied for a position as a vet assistant years ago and was passed over for a White male classmate who had less experience and a lower academic standing,” Pedraja says.

She also remembers many instances where she was asked about her cultural background. “I’d answer that I was born and raised here in the United States and grew up in Connecticut and then I’d be asked, ‘But where are you really from?’” Pedraja recalls. “And people would often mistakenly assume that since I’m Latina, I speak fluent Spanish, which I don’t.”

Wording is important. Diversity experts say questions such as those posed to Pedraja can imply someone doesn’t belong in this country. They recommend waiting for the topic to surface organically or instead asking, “What is your family’s heritage?” Pedraja says it was also difficult to hear veterinary staff make assumptions about clients. “I would hear staff assume that a certain client wouldn’t be able to pay or that they wouldn’t treat their animal well because of their race. Another common misconception was that a client who owned a pit bull was probably raising their dog to fight,” Pedraja says. “These are really bad and dangerous assumptions and yet management never addressed these microaggressions.”

To counter racism and prejudice, Pedraja encourages veterinary practices to become involved with the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association (MCVMA), a group working to lead the field toward racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusivity in order to serve a multicultural society. “MCVMA is holding their annual conference in November, and it’s a great opportunity for everyone in the veterinary field to learn how to support diversity efforts while creating a culturally competent practice,” Pedraja says.

CS5.jpg
Stephen Cital, RVT,
SRA, RLAT, VCC,
CVPP, VTS-LAM

Stephen Cital, RVT, SRA, RLAT, VCC, CVPP, VTS-LAM, Laboratory Manager at Stanford University, will be one of the speakers at this year’s MCVMA conference. Cital, who is Latino and openly gay, says it’s not unusual for inappropriate comments, like the ones cited by Pedraja, to be directed at minority veterinary staff or clients. “It’s really important for veterinary professionals to serve as allies and to listen and understand when a coworker speaks out on discrimination,” he says. “Be supportive and realize that even if a racist remark isn’t made with malicious intent, it can still be hurtful and offensive.”

Cital says diverse veterinary practices offer tangible benefits to both employees and clients. “Having a multicultural/multilingual practice can add value and increase revenue,” Cital says. “A diverse workforce gives you better insight into your veterinary customers and allows your practice to expand and communicate with a more diverse customer base.”

When hiring technicians, Cital encourages veterinary practices to cast a wide net and to attend career fairs at local schools.

“When I was in high school, I had no idea about the wide array of jobs in the veterinary field,” Cital says. “There are so many jobs that go beyond being a veterinarian or working in a clinic. For example, you can be a vet tech and be employed with the NASA space program.”

Training Tomorrow’s Vet Techs

Jennifer Serling, CVT, VTES, BVSc, veterinary program director at Pima Medical Institute (PMI) in Tucson, Arizona, and president-elect of the Association of Veterinary Technician Educators (AVTSE), says PMI’s 18 campuses are committed to training a diverse workforce.

The veterinary technology program at the PMI Tucson campus is composed of 47% Latinx students, 34% White, 5% Black, 4% Asian, and 2% Native American. To recruit a diverse student body, Serling says PMI maintains partnerships with several high school programs. In addition, “diversity training is incorporated into the curriculum for all first- and second-year students,” says Serling, who notes the school uses a program developed by FranklinCovey. Acknowledging that approximately 35% of all veterinary technicians experience burnout, Serling says there’s currently a significant focus on technician utilization. When practices are busy or understaffed, veterinary technicians are often asked to do janitorial, clerical, or kennel work, which doesn’t capitalize on their training.

“We want to see credentialed vet techs properly utilized and performing the work they were trained to do,” Serling says. “When they’re allowed to use their skill sets, receive competitive pay and benefits, and advance in their careers, the result is better job satisfaction.”

In addition, Serling points out that there’s currently no national standard for credentialed veterinary technicians. “In several states, a vet practice can have a nonlicensed employee do the work of a credentialed vet tech, but at a much lower salary,” Serling explains. “We’re working to have standardized credentialing across all 50 states.”

For veterinary practices looking to increase diversity among their technician staff, Serling says PMI helps students with job placement and welcomes the opportunity to connect graduates with potential employers. “We have graduates who are seeking jobs across the country,” Serling says. “All of our students complete clinical externships, so they leave PMI ready to work in a veterinary practice.”

 

Linda Childers
Linda Childers is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The Washington Post, AARP, The Rheumatologist, Allure, Arthritis Today, AKC Family Dog, and other national media outlets.

 

Photo credits: Photos: Stephen Cital, RVT, SRA, RLAT, VCC, CVPP, VTS-LAM (Photo courtesy of Stephen Cital), Ian Scholer, DVM, and his wife, Megan, founders of Vets of All Colors (Photo courtesy of the Scholers); FatCamera/E+ via Getty Images; Photos: April Panpipat LVT (Photo courtesy of April Panpipat); Natalie Pedraja, LVT (Photo courtesy of Natalie Pedraja; Stephen Cital, RVT, SRA, RLAT, VCC, CVPP, VTS-LAM (Photo courtesy of Stephen Cital) ; Photographer/collection via Getty Images

Advertisement

Close

Subscribe to NEWStat