AVMA holds first diversity symposium

Speakers urge attendees to promote change locally
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To help promote diversity in the veterinary profession, the AVMA kicked off its first diversity symposium, sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, at the AVMA Annual Convention. The full-day program was designed to help veterinarians understand the realities and benefits of diversity in the veterinary profession and the clients it serves. CBS correspondent Dr. Debbye Turner keynoted the event, held in July at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Drs. Debbye Turner (left) and Evan Morse (right)

A resident veterinarian on CBS's "The Early Show" and former Miss America, Dr. Turner's keynote luncheon address included strategies for transforming the face of veterinary medicine into an image that more accurately reflects U.S. population demographics.

"(O)ne of the most important things that can be done today is for practicing veterinarians, for instructors, and even for students to be activists in their own community," Dr. Turner said. She explained the need for veterinarians to become more involved in local career fairs, the Rotary Club, and other community events. "If there's not one to attend, host it," she said. "Those types of grassroots (efforts) I think will go a long way toward increasing diversity in the profession."

Dr. Turner also suggested encouraging children who show an interest in becoming a veterinarian. In fact, it was her family's veterinarian who led her into the field. As a young girl, Dr. Turner cleaned cages and assisted the practitioners at a local animal clinic. She then went on to graduate from the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991.

She also spoke about the public image challenges that the veterinary profession faces. "It is a concern to me that most still don't know how highly trained and capable we are, (and are) therefore unwilling to pay the fees that we are deserving of, and that most of the people we talk to have seen no diversity in this profession."

"There's a power in the media that I believe is essential to the goals and the objectives of pursuing appropriate diversity in this profession," she continued. "As a member of the media, I'm telling you it's time to stop avoiding it, it's time to stop hating it, and it's time to stop mistrusting it. ... It's time to participate." Dr. Turner recommended that veterinarians get in touch with their local news community and offer story ideas and familiarize themselves with reporters.

On the Association's first diversity symposium, Dr. Turner said the event helps validate efforts to increase diversity and also helps make it more mainstream. "Changes will not happen unless those who are outside of the group recognize the importance and take action," she said.

During another presentation, co-chairman and moderator of the symposium Dr. Evan Morse said, "By 2050, a dramatic shift in the racial distribution in the United States will have occurred."

Fewer than 10 percent of students enrolled in U.S. colleges of veterinary medicine are minorities, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, which has sponsored a diversity symposium for several years. The AAVMC also stated that data released this year indicate a downturn in the percentage of minority students enrolled, for the first time since 1988.

Dr. Morse proposed a new image to replace the United States' melting pot. He said the image of a melting pot indicates "melting down" and conformity. Instead, he proposed using the image of a salad bowl, where the cheese is white and yellow, croutons are brown, and each item adds texture and flavor to the experience.

Other highlights from the symposium included presentations by Dr. Tsegaye Habtemariam, associate dean at Tuskegee University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Ronnie G. Elmore, associate dean of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.