The push for greater cultural competence in the veterinary profession continued to gain momentum this year thanks to efforts by the veterinary academic community.
Two regional meetings—one held at the University of Georgia in February and the other at Purdue University in May—convened with the goal of pushing forward the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges agenda outlined in its DiVersity Matters program, aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in veterinary medicine.
The Iverson Bell Regional Diversity Summit in Indiana, co-hosted by Michigan State University, featured a mix of speakers, including Dr. Billy E. Hooper, professor emeritus at Purdue and former AAVMC director. Small group sessions focused on creating innovative ways in which cultural competence can be interjected into the veterinary curriculum, whether through basic science classes or the clinics.
Dr. Willie M. Reed, dean of Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine, said, "It's important that (diversity) be institutionalized. It should not be just one course or experience students have in one year of the curriculum, but from day one to graduation, because in the real world they will encounter this each and every day. It won't be compartmentalized to happen, say, every Thursday (when they're in practice)."
Lisa Greenhill, AAVMC associate executive director for diversity, who attended the symposium, said the small groups tried to focus on the specific areas where educators could do some unique things such as having electives that focus on diversity in veterinary medicine.
"Certainly more schools are doing small-group facilitated discussions and problem-solving modules. Opportunities in this format give more information and context to a case," Greenhill said.
Other discussions centered on how to use accreditation as a tool to urge colleges to consider methods of incorporating diversity into the curriculum to effect change.
"If you look at some other collegial disciplines, medical accreditation standards are clear about their expectation of how medical students are trained on diversity and cultural competence," Greenhill said. "We may not be in a position to do that or desirous of that prescription, but certainly we can move in that direction to highlight this as an important issue for veterinarians to meet societal needs."
Traditionally, veterinary schools build their classes by going through admission applications and selecting a certain number of individuals on the basis of their GRE scores and GPAs.
Western University of Health Sciences approaches the process differently in that, after the veterinary college identifies qualified applicants, it then looks at societal needs and pulls from the available pool of students who both scored the best and can meet those needs.
"We like to count and rank to organize, versus qualitative analysis," Greenhill said.
The Purdue meeting followed the second Southeastern Veterinary Student Diversity Matters Symposium at the University of Georgia in late February. That meeting focused on campus climate at institutions, whether faculty and students believed the environment where they were working and living was really inclusive, and whether that creates an environment for success.
The first Southeastern symposium, held in 2006 at North Carolina State University, was attended by more than 100, including representatives from industry, veterinary and human medical schools, and private businesses.
Dean Reed said he hopes the first Midwest meeting will follow in the footsteps of the Southeastern meeting.
"One thing we certainly hope is this summit won't be the last. In fact, it's just the beginning as we work hand in hand with the AAVMC. Those years we don't have the national (Iverson Bell) meeting, we'll have a summit in the Midwest at one of our institutions, because increasing diversity requires a lot of sustained efforts, and the work is not accomplished overnight," Dr. Reed said.
Greenhill anticipates moving forward with the issues discussed at the two regional meetings at the upcoming Iverson Bell Symposium in March 2011. That will be helped by the concrete suggestions for institutions that came out of the two regional meetings, she said.