The Changing Face of Veterinary Medicine
The topic of diversity, or the lack thereof, in veterinary medicine has seen a recent resurgence. We can't let this momentum die down.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2042 the United States will have become a majority-minority population.1 It is not wrong to expect this expansion of diversity to be reflected in the demographics of the veterinary profession. However, the well-documented lack of diversity in our ranks seems to change at a slower pace than the rate seen in our community.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is overwhelmingly white (89.8%) and female (68.3%).2 The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) reports that less than 5% of all veterinary school applicants and students are Black,3 but Black Americans make up approximately 13.4% of the U.S. population.4 The lack of diversity in veterinary medicine is not due to a shortage of diverse potential candidates—it must be because these students are not educated on all the opportunities that veterinary medicine has to offer or the lack of visible role models in the field.
Our profession as a whole has not sufficiently marketed the breadth of career opportunities available, and opportunities require individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds to address various societal needs in the 21st century. This is not to say that there have not been well-documented efforts within the profession for quite some time now, but the changes that should be here will probably take 1 to 2 generations to catch up. In 2005, the AAVMC launched Diversity Matters, an initiative devoted to increasing diversity in the academic veterinary medicine space and recognizing that underrepresented minorities have been “disproportionately impacted due to legal, cultural, or social climate impediments in the United States.”5
Veterinary college admissions offices have worked diligently to attract greater numbers of minority students from those interested in health professions. Initiatives have included offering scholarships and targeting high schools to raise awareness of veterinary career opportunities. So why then is the change in our profession’s demographics at the student level taking so long? The lack of an adequate number of diverse role models within the veterinary profession may be one of several contributing factors. To be clear, role models are needed at every level in our profession to inspire and guide: the governing and regulatory bodies, the training grounds of the university, within the large corporations owning veterinary practices, and within the practices themselves. Change comes from the top and within, and ambition is fueled by an awareness of what is possible.
Although role models do not necessarily have to be of the same minority background as potential veterinary students, the lack of cultural, racial, and ethnic familiarity can be an obvious deterrent. However, until the time where we move to a position of more appropriate representation within our profession—something that is happening at a greater pace in other historically white professions—the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the majority. This responsibility is our duty and it means more than lip service.
In July of this year, a #WakeUpVetMed movement was started that launched a petition, with over 5700 signatures at time of press, to the AVMA.6 The petition is a call to action, detailing specific mechanisms that should be immediately implemented to help the profession achieve the goal of being more representative and inclusive. We should support these efforts because it is way past time to change the face of our profession. We are all role models for the future generations.
Read more on the topic of diversity in veterinary medicine at Today’s Veterinary Business Diversity Toolbox column.