February 15, 2010

 

 It takes all kinds to make a profession

 
SPECIAL ISSUE: DIVERSITY | Additional photos from this issue and a video interview are available here. See a timeline charting milestones in diversity.
posted February 1, 2010


Being inclusive toward others from different backgrounds not only fosters a positive working environment but also makes good business sense. Some companies, veterinary colleges, and practitioners have realized this and have taken the lead on ensuring an inclusive work environment for employees and students, hoping others will follow.

Pfizer and Bayer, to name a few, have long stood out for their dedication to fostering and sustaining a culture of diversity and inclusion. Both companies have been recognized for their policies and programs that support, among others, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities; working mothers; people of color; and those with disabilities.

Dr. Malcolm Kram is a senior director at Pfizer Animal Health and is openly gay. He said his experience at the company has been rewarding, thanks to the unprecedented degree of acceptance he's had there since joining the staff in 1993.

Dr. Kram recounted the time when his partner's uncle died and he asked permission to take a day off to go to the funeral.

"Nobody blinked an eye. I told my boss and he said 'OK,'" Dr. Kram said.

Some veterinary schools, too, are preparing future practitioners for the shifting demographics of the profession and its clientele. Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine offers the course "Practicing Veterinary Medicine in a Multicultural Society."

The class began this past fall as an elective for first-year students, 37 of whom participated. Dr. Ronnie G. Elmore teaches them why diversity is important when creating a business plan for a veterinary practice or accepting a veterinary practice position. Students also learn how to describe important cultural differences, particularly related to animals, in the various populations represented in the United States, and how to effectively communicate with people from cultures different than their own.

Dr. Elmore said many students commented after the semester that they didn't realize what they didn't know. He had his own epiphany, for example, when he heard a rabbi tell students that they should consider not scheduling appointments on Saturday for their Jewish clients, which is the Sabbath day of rest for them.

"There are a lot of things like that—not out of any intent to be prejudiced—that you just flat-out don't think about it," Dr. Elmore said. "Only by them becoming aware of these things can they develop a practice that will say to the public in their area, 'We want you as a client.'"

Inclusiveness also pertains to employees. A number of state and federal laws mandate that businesses, including veterinary practices, adhere to guidelines regarding hiring practices, disciplinary actions, and pay and benefits.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of that person's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. (Though it is not federally mandated, 20 states and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in private employment.)

"Diversity in the profession reflects that of society and contributes to the social matrix in our neighborhoods. It builds bridges between veterinarians and the community by virtue of the relationships with families and their pets."

—DR. YUVAL NIR, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO VMA

It is also illegal in the United States to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Ultimately, diversity is important for the health of the profession, said Dr. Yuval Nir, president of the Chicago VMA. He compared it to a gene pool in biology and how heterogeneity promotes the expression of good genes and suppresses that of bad genes.

"Diversity in the profession reflects that of society and contributes to the social matrix in our neighborhoods. It builds bridges between veterinarians and the community by virtue of the relationships with families and their pets," Dr. Nir said.