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August 15, 2020

Diversity programming takes look back, forward

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The AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 will offer continuing education sessions dedicated to diversity and inclusion, including an LGBTQ-friendly town hall and the session “Diversity and Inclusion: Past, Present, and Future,” by Dr. Douglas Kratt, incoming AVMA president.

The AVMA held its first Diversity Symposium at the AVMA Convention in 2005. 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.

Stethescope and rainbow ribbon

The AVMA held nine annual symposiums dedicated to diversity at the AVMA Convention, the last in 2013, eventually opting to integrate themes of diversity and cultural competency into existing programming at the convention and other venues to benefit more AVMA members.

The impetus for the Diversity Symposium came from the AVMA Diversity Task Force, which was convened in 2005 “to study and recommend initiatives that will enhance understanding of racial, ethnic, gender, cultural, and linguistic diversity as it applies to the veterinary profession.” A year later, the task force developed a report (PDF).

This year, in honor of the task force’s 15th anniversary, Dr. Kratt will revisit this pivotal report, discuss the current state of diversity and inclusion in veterinary medicine, and present ideas on the future of the profession. His talk will take place from 12-12:50 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 20.

Other programming related to diversity and inclusion includes “You Be You—The Power of Authenticity: Engage with PrideVMC” from 3:30-4:20 p.m. EDT on Friday, Aug. 21.

Dr. Ellen Lowery, industry chair liaison for Pride Veterinary Medical Community, formerly known as the Lesbian and Gay VMA, will host this town hall meeting that will provide a safe environment to share and connect with the LGBTQ community. The town hall is open to all. Attendees will have the opportunity to engage with others and share experiences and practices in their work and personal lives that have an impact on well-being.

Another session, “The Impact of Unconscious Communications Patterns on Wellbeing in Veterinary Professionals,” will dig into the topic of microaggressions, defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”

Veterinary technician Garnetta Santiago, manager of academic and professional affairs for Zoetis, will lead the session, taking place 2-2:50 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 22.

“The ways in which we interact with individuals who are different from ourselves is heavily influenced by our personal experiences, and consciously and unconsciously held beliefs. Regularly experiencing insidious bias—even when unintended—has real-world implications and takes a mental and physical toll on the individual receiving it,” the session’s summary states. “Employing approaches to connect with individuals of different backgrounds in ways that support their uniqueness is a crucial part of promoting overall wellbeing for the veterinary healthcare team, and in members of underrepresented groups individually.”

Finally, Jen Brandt, PhD, AVMA director of member well-being and inclusion initiatives, will give the presentation “Veterinary Mental Health Primer: Essential Tools for Challenging Times” at 4:30-5:20 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 20. Dr. Brandt will address topics related to racism-induced trauma and mental health as well as tools for people who want to help, with relatable examples, best practices, and a conversational approach to demystify the process of self-care and mental health.

“Your mental health influences how you think, feel, and behave in daily life,” she said. “It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships.

“Many of us don’t prioritize having frank conversations about racism, trauma, and mental health; seeking connection; or engaging in intentional, consistent mental health promotion practices. That has to change.”

Dr. Brandt will hold virtual office hours for well-being coaching on a first-come, first-served basis for convention attendees from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 20, and Friday, Aug. 21, as well as from 10 a.m. to noon EDT on Saturday, Aug. 22. Convention attendees will have access to a Zoom link found on the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 website.

In addition, Live Life, Love All—the AVMA’s premiere diversity and inclusion event—will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 6:30 p.m. EDT. Participants could submit videos of themselves lip-syncing by July 31. Up to five finalists will be chosen to sing during the event.