President’s Column: Dr. Mike Topper
I’m excited that Jen Brandt, PhD, recently joined the AVMA staff as our first director of member wellness and diversity initiatives. Dr. Brandt comes to us from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and is internationally renowned in the field of veterinary wellbeing. She recognizes the influence of moral stress on the wellbeing of veterinary students and professionals, and the importance of an organization’s ability to support a diverse workforce.
Her commitment to and compassion for others is rooted in an experience she recently shared with me. I’d like to share her story with you.
“One of the early lessons that influenced my approach to integrating wellbeing and diversity—although we didn’t use those terms then—was my work with patients with AIDS. In the 1980s, patients with AIDS were put in isolation rooms; health-care staff was instructed to wear full protective equipment. Touching the patient, particularly without gloves, was to be avoided, and fear of any patient contact was widespread. The patients—most frequently gay men who were dying in unprecedented numbers—often spent their last days in our hospital, afraid and alone, having been rejected years earlier by their family members.
“On my first day in the unit, my mentor, Mike, looked at me and said, ‘THIS is how we show up,’ then walked into a patient’s room without donning personal protective equipment. When the patient offered up his hand, Mike immediately held it. Seeing the look on the patient’s face, I knew immediately that our most potent ‘medicine’ was connection. That moment profoundly changed me. It sparked a lifelong mission to better understand the needs and perspectives of under-represented communities, to acknowledge the impact of systemic oppression and discrimination, to recognize that a lack of resources and bias influences access to healthcare, to challenge what I thought I knew and believed, and get curious about what others know and believe, and to always remember the sheer power of showing up.”
Given the AVMA’s commitments to wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion, we are fortunate to add a person with Dr. Brandt’s insight and experience to our staff and volunteer team. “Wellbeing” and “diversity and inclusion” are integrated concepts and intersect on about every level—individual, organizational, and societal. Recognizing and appreciating diversity and inclusion is a critical component of fostering wellbeing.
Dr. Brandt’s efforts will build on an established foundation of existing AVMA wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion programs and initiatives. Our wellbeing page (avma.org/wellbeing) offers resources on topics such as emotional and physical wellness, cyberbullying, and suicide prevention training. The AVMA Wheel of Well-Being has been very well received—both at home and internationally—since its launch last summer. And AVMA staff members work with volunteer entities and others whose efforts are related to building cultural competency in the veterinary profession.
All of this work is focused on helping us enhance our members’ wellbeing and advancing our commitment to ensuring diversity and inclusion in the profession. Adding a staff member like Dr. Brandt to lead these efforts provides the consistency and resources necessary to make a difference in people’s lives.