Students, recent grads from underrepresented backgrounds are building spaces for themselves
Group leaders on sharing stories, creating community, and having representation
August 12, 2020
Updated August 14, 2020
More groups representing individuals underrepresented in veterinary medicine are launching within the veterinary profession; most are being led by younger veterinarians or students. The founders and members of these groups are banding together to share resources, create community, and tell their stories.
JAVMA News spoke with leaders of five of these groups about their goals for the future and how they’re creating a space for members—who are largely Black, Indigenous, people of color, or LGBTQ—to be seen.
BlackDVM Network: sharing stories
Dr. Tierra Price started the BlackDVM Network on Instagram in 2018 when she was a third-year student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
“For a minute there, I thought I was the only Black veterinary student out there,” she said.
The 2020 graduate said she wanted to highlight and share the stories of Black veterinary professionals, veterinarians, and veterinary students. She started to reach out to people and ask interview-type questions; then she would post their photos and answers. The BlackDVM Network, which is an LLC, now has 125 members.
“If I had this in my undergraduate years, I would have felt more comfortable and confident in the profession,” Dr. Price said, noting that 2% of veterinarians are Black, according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “What are the odds of people organically meeting a Black veterinarian? I saw value in sharing their stories.”
Along with showcasing Black veterinary professionals, Dr. Price created a directory to find Black-owned veterinary practices and Black veterinarians around the U.S.
Dr. Price has plans to create additional resources, such as a mentorship program.
“I have had some great mentors, but sometimes they gave me advice, and it didn’t work for me because they couldn’t relate to my background,” she said.
Dr. Price envisions mentorship as a coaching experience. She is still working out the details as well as looking at hosting more online events, including monthly webinars and virtual happy hours. She said there will be student sectors of the network, too.
When Dr. Price started the Instagram page, she didn’t have a plan for it. She just wanted to show people that Black veterinarians and veterinary technicians were out there.
“It’s a platform for us to come together and have a community, pool our resources, and address the issues we see,” she said. “It is hard to face discrimination on top of everything else in veterinary school. You are experiencing microaggressions every day. It is like a breath of fresh air to come into a community. And so, that’s what we do. … We are here, and we’re doing amazing things.”
Latinx VMA: having a voice
Juan Sebastian Orjuela, co-founder of the Latinx VMA and a third-year student at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College, said the association was an idea he had had for a long time.
“I went through undergrad as a prevet student without any guidance from mentors who looked like me or spoke my language—Spanish,” he said. “There is a lack of representation. So, once I got into veterinary school, I made it my goal to create a community.”
Orjuela, who was born in Bogota, Colombia, created a personal Instagram platform to start networking.
“I started sharing my own experiences on Instagram and found that it was the only way for me to have a voice,” he said. “I was able to use my voice to recruit people that were interested in what I was doing.”
Once he did, Orjuela connected with Yvette Huizar, the other co-founder of LVMA and a fourth-year veterinary student at Cornell University.
The two founded the LVMA in February. The group is focused on four key pillars: empowerment, including professional development; mentorship; outreach; and scholarship.
LVMA established its first executive board recently, with Dr. Carlos Campos, a small animal practitioner at VCA San Francis Animal Hospital in Spring Hill, Florida, as treasurer and Richalice Melendez, a fourth-year student at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, as secretary.
Orjuela said he had to navigate the process of becoming a veterinarian all on his own, and he wants the LVMA to provide support and encouragement to Latinx students so that no one else has do it alone.
“My parents supported my dream, but they couldn’t provide me with the proper resources to facilitate my journey through veterinary medicine. I had to work hard,” he said. “LVMA aims to inspire people. We want to give people the guidance I never had, and I think it is one of the most important things we can do for our community and the profession. Creating visibility is vital.”
Although the association is only a few months old, Orjuela said he receives emails almost daily from people looking to get involved.
“The feedback is overwhelming,” he said. “People want this to happen. We are already getting interest from parents who want to expose their children to our resources.”
The LVMA also has plans to create student chapters at all of the veterinary colleges and is working to build a directory that highlights Latinx veterinary professionals in the United States and Canada.
Association of Asian Veterinary Medical Professionals: focused on growth
Hira Basit, a third-year veterinary student at the University of Florida and co-founder of the Association of Asian Veterinary Medical Professionals, said, “We are showcasing the stories of Asian people who are navigating veterinary medicine.”
The group, founded in April, was inspired by social media posts from the BlackDVM Network and the Latinx VMA. The AAVMP is focused on partnering with other organizations, building its platform, creating student chapters, recruiting established Asian veterinarians and veterinary professionals, and creating mentoring programs and educational resources for members.
“When I started as a veterinary technician, there wasn’t anyone who looked like me,” Basit said. “I have felt like an impostor. It is important for people to see people who look like them. I feel like having representation, it matters in any profession, but veterinary medicine is not a diverse profession. Our voices are needed. We need to have a seat at the table. There wasn’t any organization that was advocating for Asian professionals in veterinary medicine. We want the profession to be filled with the people we serve, which is diverse.”
Basit said she hopes the veterinary community is open to the AAVMP and similar groups.
“Make sure you are an ally and that people don’t feel like impostors in their own profession,” she said.
Native American Veterinary Association: building community
Dr. Evelyn Galban, associate professor of clinical neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said she was involved in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society when she was younger, but when she decided to become a veterinarian, she couldn’t find a similar organization to join.
Dr. Galban went through veterinary school and started her career, aware there still wasn’t a group for her community.
“The opportunity presented itself when I saw that there was still no network out there to help or share experiences—a group of Native American professionals and allies to provide a support network that someone may be looking for,” Dr. Galban said.
She created the Native American Veterinary Association as a Facebook group in 2017, and now there are 70 members. Its goals are to provide resources, support, and mentorship for fellow Indigenous people.
Dr. Galban, who is of Washoe and Mono Lake Paiute ancestry, said young people also reach out and ask about how to apply to veterinary college, and she created the group to be a safe and honest space.
“I was late in thinking about a veterinary career,” Dr. Galban said. “It did not cross my mind until I was working in a research facility and I was working with some of the animals. I had never thought about it. I had never seen a veterinary career as an option or an idea.”
NAVA is working to create more awareness of the veterinary profession as an available career path and to build its membership.
“You are always the only person in the room, in the building, in the state,” she said. “But this organization is here to show you are not alone.”
Pride Student Veterinary Medical Community: restructuring
The Pride Student Veterinary Medical Community, formerly Broad Spectrum Student VMA, has made a few changes recently.
Last year, the group merged with the Pride Veterinary Medical Community, which seeks to create a better world for the LGBTQ veterinary community, and is currently working on rebranding itself as Pride SVMC.
Alexander Dhom, president of Pride SVMC and a third-year veterinary student at the University of Georgia, said he is focused on getting the organization restructured around its relationship with Pride VMC and is looking forward to clearing up any confusion around the merger as well as starting new student chapters with more clarity and structure.
“Our real drive is to help local chapters with funding and networking opportunities,” he said. “And to help encourage campuses to be more inclusive and diverse with gender and sexual identities. We do that with grant money to fund and promote student awareness around different identities.”
Dhom said every school environment varies and has a different level of acceptance. He said Pride SVMC leadership works to provide specific resources for each student chapter depending on what is needed.
The organization uses social media to promote events and highlight grants and awards. Recently, Pride SVMC hosted a Zoom session with Black LGBTQ panelists discussing intersectionalities, or the overlap of various categorizations such as race and sexuality that can impact discrimination.
Students interested in starting a chapter can reach out to studentpridevmc [dot] org or pridevmc.org.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized Dr. Evelyn Galban’s background. She is of Washoe and Mono Lake Paiute ancestry, not a member of the Washoe and Paiute tribes.