Grant aims to give minorities a boost in whitest profession

Tuskegee receives $7.1 million to recruit, train, retain underrepresented populations
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Updated Oct. 15, 2015

Veterinary medicine is one of—if not the most—homogeneous professions. In fact, 97.3 percent of veterinarians in the workforce in 2013 were white—the highest of any profession—according to the August 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report “Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity.”

To change that figure, Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine recently got word that it will receive $7.1 million from the federal government. The money will help the veterinary program expand its ability to recruit, train, and retain racially and ethnically underrepresented veterinary medical students. The funds also are meant for the institution to continue to educate culturally competent veterinarians and public health professionals.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration announced the three-year grant July 10. It establishes a center of excellence in minority veterinary medical and public health education at Tuskegee via HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce’s Centers of Excellence program.

Chart: Presence of racially and ethnically underrepresented students at U.S. veterinary colleges
Source: Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges' 2014 internal reports (Enlarge)

Tuskegee’s veterinary school is the only one located at a historically black university. In receiving this grant, the veterinary program will have a greater opportunity to expand its educational pipeline to channel more African-Americans and other underrepresented minorities interested in veterinary medicine and other health careers.

The grant will also assist with improving the veterinary school’s educational infrastructures, such as enhancing e-learning environments, providing more counselors and peer and faculty tutors, and strengthening the mentoring program, which consists of peer and alumni mentors, researchers, and educators.

“The grant award of over $2.3 million yearly for the next three-year period would not have been made possible without a team approach, which was directed by Dr. Cheryl G. Davis, (Centers of Excellence) coordinator for the college. The COE proposal and progress report required diligent, dedicated, and cooperative efforts from our faculty and staff who realized the necessity in advancing our mission/goals and the national health priorities as expressed in Healthy People 2020, which focuses on major improvements for public health,” said Dr. Ruby Perry, dean of the veterinary school.

Drs. Perry and Davis
Drs. Ruby Perry, dean of Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, and Cheryl G. Davis, associate dean for strategic initiatives and Centers of Excellence program coordinator, will oversee a $7.1 million grant from the federal government to increase diversity in the veterinary profession. (Courtesy of TUSVM)

Tuskegee already graduates the greatest number of URVM students every year, by far. More than 75 percent of its class of 2014 were racially and ethnically underrepresented in veterinary medicine, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. In fact, approximately 50 percent of the nation’s African-American veterinarians have graduated from Tuskegee. The second most diverse class was at Western University of Health Sciences with 35.5 percent URVM students.

And although the veterinary profession remains overwhelmingly white, much effort has been put into increasing the number of URVM students, and it has started to pay off. Ten years ago, the AAVMC launched its DiVersity Matters initiative, which seeks to increase diversity at U.S. veterinary colleges. Since then, the number of historically underrepresented students at U.S. veterinary colleges has increased from 951, or 9.7 percent of the total students enrolled, in 2005 to 1,810, or 14.6 percent, in 2015, according to AAVMC data.

However, the makeup of the veterinary applicant pool hasn’t changed much in the past five years. During that period, 77 percent of applicants were female, with a mean age of 21 years. Additionally, of those who responded to the AAVMC annual applicant survey in the past five years and identified themselves with at least one race, 72 percent were Caucasian.

Correction: A previous version of the chart incorrectly listed rate of racially or ethnically underrepresented students enrolled at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The correct rate is 10.2 percent.

Related JAVMA content:

Tuskegee’s diversity legacy continues today (Feb. 15, 2010)

AAVMC continues to move the needle on diversity (May 1, 2015)