The changing face of the profession

Published on February 01, 2010
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SPECIAL ISSUE: DIVERSITY | Additional photos from this issue are available here. See a timeline charting milestones in diversity. 


Embracing diversity is vital if the veterinary profession is going to continue to fulfill its mission of serving all of society and all animals to the best advantage. From improving communication with clients to providing a better understanding of cultural attitudes and practices that affect animal care to recognizing how differences in gender attitudes affect the work environment, diversity touches every aspect of the profession.

To stimulate continued dialogue, the AVMA news staff dedicated most of this issue of the JAVMA News to illuminating various aspects of diversity within the veterinary profession and describing how the unique perspectives of underrepresented minorities contribute to the profession as a whole. The stories* describe challenges being overcome and explain how such efforts have proved worthwhile.

The question of why to embrace diversity is at least as important as the question of how. For many, apathy about diversity, where it exists in the profession, appears to spring more from its being assigned a low priority than from any lack of conviction or belief that diversity is merely a matter of political correctness.

It is our hope that the narratives on these pages help to illustrate why embracing diversity—or inclusivity, as some prefer to call it—is so important to maintaining a vibrant and responsive profession. *

In 2004, the AVMA formally committed itself to promoting diversity in all aspects of the profession. As first steps, the Association in 2005 hosted the first annual AVMA Veterinary Diversity Symposium and authorized the development of a diversity task force as recommended by the Member Services Committee.

True, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges had been sponsoring the Iverson Bell Symposium, devoted to examining diversity in academic veterinary medicine, biennially since 1972. But, Dr. Bonnie Beaver, 2004-2005 AVMA president, believed that presenting a symposium at an AVMA venue could sensitize a larger segment of the profession to diversity.

Speaking about the role of AVMA leadership, AVMA President Larry R. Corry said, "Recently the AVMA has taken some meaningful steps in the direction of raising recognition of diversity issues."

In January, the AVMA and American Veterinary Medical Foundation sponsored 10 emerging leaders selected from groups underrepresented in veterinary medicine and paid for them to attend the 2010 AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.

At its November 2009 meeting, the AVMA Executive Board passed a recommendation from a staff working group to incorporate a draft diversity plan into the AVMA Strategic Plan. As a result, a number of tactics based on recommendations from the 2006 Report of the AVMA Task Force on Diversity will be tied into existing objectives in the strategic plan.

AVMA CEO W. Ron DeHaven said, "We recognize the importance of increasing diversity within the profession and within our leadership at AVMA. The best way we can promote diversity is to incorporate specific diversity tasks within each of our five strategic goals, since it is those goals where we are focusing our commitment and resources. Doing so will also provide accountability and measurement to ensure we accomplish those diversity tasks."

Another active diversity advocate, AVMA President-Elect Larry M. Kornegay, commented about his own practice.

"Diversity—or, as we prefer to think of it in our Houston clinic, inclusion—has become important in our daily practice thinking and activities," Dr. Kornegay said. "We have seen the racial and ethnic make up of our surrounding neighborhoods and clientele change dramatically over the past 30-plus years. Attempting to adapt to these changing demographics has been challenging yet rewarding.

"I feel AVMA can embrace diversity/inclusion in a number of ways. These efforts will enhance awareness of and attraction to veterinary medicine, and expand the professional services we provide to a broader segment of society and students. Such endeavors should strengthen our public image and deliver valuable dividends to our clients, patients, and members."

AVMA members can discuss diversity and inclusion strategies and tactics at the sixth annual AVMA Veterinary Diversity Symposium, Aug. 2 at the AVMA Annual Convention in Atlanta. "We Are AVMA" is the event's theme, which builds on the Web-based "I am AVMA" campaign. Cleveland veterinarian Dr. Evan Morse will moderate the one-day meeting. Morning sessions will trace the history of diversity in the profession, feature two veterinarians who are experts in the field, and examine diversity initiatives with key leaders in the human medical and dental professions.

Members are also encouraged to update their member profile and answer the ethnicity question by going here and clicking on "Renew/Update/Join" under "My AVMA." According to Barbara Baldwin, AVMA staff liaison on diversity, only 17 percent of members had answered that question by the end of 2009.