Speakers share strategies to increase diversity

Medical, dental professions advocate changing admissions process
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Speakers at the sixth annual Veterinary Diversity Symposium Aug. 2 at the AVMA Annual Convention in Atlanta touched on past and present situations in veterinary medicine as well as what the dental and medical professions have done to promote diversity.

In the medical field during the ’70s, the goal of diversity initiatives was for the student population to reach parity with the U.S. population, said Gregory Strayhorn, MD, professor of family medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Affirmative action efforts resulted in a slight increase in the number of black applicants to medical schools from 1974-1980, but that progress came to a halt when the schools encountered legal challenges related to concerns about the use of quotas.

Dr. Adams spoke at the Veterinary Diversity Symposium
Dr. Eugene W. Adams, one of the first faculty members at the Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, spoke at the sixth annual Veterinary Diversity Symposium at the AVMA Annual Convention in Atlanta.

In 1990, the Association of American Medical Colleges started a major initiative to increase schools' diversity efforts. Institutions saw a dramatic increase in minority admissions for about five years, but after more challenges to these efforts, another dip occurred, although not to the same extent as was seen in the previous decade. Dr. Strayhorn said a gradual rebound in minority admissions is happening currently.

That's because medical schools began looking in the past decade at alternatives to quotas to encourage diversity. They created programs to facilitate entry to medical education, aiming to help minority students overcome poor academic preparation.

Plus, admissions policies were modified—implicitly or otherwise—to consider noncognitive factors. This allowed admissions committees to take a more holistic approach, he said, and look at other achievements and other potential these students had, to predict their success in medical school.

Dental education has also seen success after examining schools' admissions processes and working with admissions committees.

"We found even if you increase recruitment of minority students, we didn't see an increase in enrollment. The block seemed to be at the admissions committee level, because they focused on grades and test scores," said W. David Brunson, DDS, associate director of the Center for Equity and Diversity with the American Dental Education Association.

ADEA began working with dental school admission committees to show them the benefits of holistic admissions. As a result, 24 of 26 schools that have gone through the workshops have shown dramatic increases in the enrollment of minority students, Dr. Brunson said.

In addition, the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation approved in July revised accreditation standards that include a standard for diversity. It dictates that dental schools must have a diversity initiative and is accompanied by an intent statement for how to accomplish this.

These strategies would be great for veterinary education, too, said Dr. Ronnie G. Elmore, a professor at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, but not by themselves.

"From a recruitment standpoint, one thing I'm convinced of is it's all about shoe leather on the ground," he said. "There are lots of potential applicants. We just need to go to them."

An untapped resource for potential veterinary students from diverse backgrounds is the annual meeting of organizations such as Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences. Dr. Elmore said 500 to 600 students gather every year for the national society's meeting, but only a handful of veterinary schools have a presence there.

He challenged the AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges to put money toward recruiting minority students. Providing travel money for recruiters from interested veterinary schools to go to meetings like the MANRRS one would be very beneficial, he said. Grants of $1,000 per school for minority recruitment could be a big help and likely yield great results.

For many years, minorities were denied the opportunity to pursue a formal path to the profession, Dr. Eugene W. Adams, professor emeritus at Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, recalled in his talk.

Their absence made people assume they didn't want to become veterinarians, he said, so no efforts were made to reach out to them. But early pioneers, although a miniscule fraction of the pool, were able to achieve so very much under difficult circumstances, he said.

Dr. Adams, author of the book, "The Legacy: A History of The Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine (1945-1995)," could find only 70 African-American veterinary graduates from 1897-1948, with a large share coming from Kansas. Tuskegee University, founded in 1945, has since provided the greatest access for minorities to veterinary medicine for the subsequent 65 years.

"When you think of the limited resources of a historically black college in the South, we often say Tuskegee's veterinary college was doomed to fail, because we had no buildings, no budget to establish it in the first place, and the difficulty to recruit faculty, because only 70 black veterinarians existed and many hadn't been in the South or they knew of the conditions there," Dr. Adams said, referring to the Jim Crow laws.

But Tuskegee persevered, the veterinary school received accreditation in 1954, and went on to educate 50 percent of African-American veterinarians. Central to Tuskegee students' experience, he said, is providing cultural awareness.

"Diversity has to do with differences that need to be recognized among people," Dr. Adams said. "It's not about anyone getting ahead or receiving special treatment. It's about open-mindedness, embracing nonconformity, and breaking down barriers."

Dr. Evan M. Morse, moderator of the symposium, gave a talk on the business case for diversity and how a diverse workforce will better understand ways to create and serve a diverse client base.

"The U.S. is undergoing a profound and deep-rooted change in its culture and in the very way business is being conducted," Dr. Morse said. "The repercussions of ignoring diversity will be apparent in empty waiting rooms and closed clinics."

Implementing diversity changes within a practice need not be difficult. The first step can be as simple as declaring an intention to do so, he said. From there, a veterinary practice's diversity initiatives should be made evident in its communication efforts.

Inclusive practices, Dr. Morse said, have a wider talent pool from which to recruit, firsthand knowledge and understanding of emerging markets, an ability to recognize and target these emerging markets, enhanced community relationships, and increased revenue.