Veterinary organizations take diversity- and equity-related action
AVMA plans commission, Banfield announces coalition, AAVMC establishing working group
Story and photos by Kaitlyn Mattson
October 14, 2020
Several veterinary organizations and associations released statements in recent months in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as in response to the recent killings and shootings of Black individuals by police, including George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and Breonna Taylor, among many others, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Since then, several organizations have transformed those statements into action.
The AVMA was working to establish a diversity, equity, and inclusion commission as of press time in early October. The Association is collaborating with key stakeholders to build a strategy and identify goals related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the veterinary profession.
The AVMA also is in the process of hiring an outside consultant to support and advance its DEI initiatives. This summer, the AVMA created a new website to help members more easily access the organization’s resources and policies regarding DEI. And in August, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation joined Hill’s Pet Nutrition in endowing a new scholarship program for veterinary students at Tuskegee University, which is a historically Black university.
Your courage will inspire action. This conversation should not end here. This is not a moment. This is a movement to change society.
Dr. Ruby Perry, dean, Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges also announced it was establishing a working group to focus on strategies, such as scholarships or faculty and student exchange programs, to improve outreach and collaboration with minority-serving institutions. The association is in the process of naming and defining the strategy of the group.
As previously reported by JAVMA News, a number of historically Black colleges and universities offer veterinary- or animal-related undergraduate degrees.
The AAVMC has been leading diversity efforts over the past 15 years with such initiatives as DiVersity Matters, its “Diversity and Inclusion on Air” podcast, and, most recently, Diversity Community Reads, a book club designed to facilitate learning around DEI issues in veterinary education.
Lisa Greenhill, EdD, senior director for institutional research and diversity at the AAVMC, said in September that the applicant pool is increasingly diverse, but there is still a lot of progress to be made.
During its Pet Healthcare Industry Summit, held virtually Sept. 14-15, Banfield Pet Hospital announced the creation of the Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition and the launch of a $125,000 gift to Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine for the Banfield and Royal Canin Student Support Fund.
The coalition will focus on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion among veterinary professionals. The scholarship will support Tuskegee veterinary students who have financial need. Tuskegee is a historically Black university and, according to the veterinary college, has educated more than 70% of the nation’s African American veterinarians.
Brian Garish, president at Banfield, said the company is shifting to being activists and taking action.
“Banfield is committed to partnering with the veterinary industry to ensure the talent pipeline grows and diversifies to meet the evolving needs of pets, people, and society,” Garish said in a press release.
Members of the coalition include Boehringer Ingelheim, Mars Veterinary Health, Royal Canin, Antech Diagnostics, the National Association of Black Veterinarians, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and the Multicultural VMA. The coalition will complement the work of the commission being established by the AVMA, the AAVMC, the Veterinary Medical Association Executives, and others that will aim to drive equity, diversity, and inclusion across the profession.
Banfield is also pledging to make a $1 million investment in DEI efforts to increase representation, training, and support to improve the diversity pipeline.
“We are the least diverse of the health care professions,” said Dr. Molly McAllister, chief medical officer at Banfield. “There is no way to sugarcoat this. We are at a tipping point.”
A panel discussion during the Pet Healthcare Industry Summit focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in veterinary medicine.
Dr. Ruby Perry, dean of Tuskegee’s veterinary college, said if a person is going to make an impact, she has to have courage.
“Your courage will inspire action,” she said. “This conversation should not end here. This is not a moment. This is a movement to change society.”
“Every child should be able to see themselves” among veterinarians, said Dr. Sandra San Miguel, founder and leader of the League of VetaHumanz from Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. The League of VetaHumanz program defines a VetaHuman as “a human being with superpowers who protects animal and public health; synonym: veterinarian.”
The program will focus on expanding role models to reach children who may not have veterinarians in their lives by creating a global and inclusive Veterinary Superhero League. VetaHumanz in academia, practice, research, government, and industry engage K-12 students by creating and delivering resources focused on science, technology, engineering, and math.
VetaHumanz builds on the This is How We Role program, which started 11 years ago. Some of the resources include the SuperPower Packs, which are in development and will contain a game focused on veterinary medicine; collectible cards of role models; a cape; and a shield.
Dr. Willie Reed, dean of Purdue’s veterinary college, also spoke during the panel at the Pet Healthcare Industry Summit. He said there is still work to be done.
“We have made some progress, but we have so far yet to go. It can’t just be the colleges doing this alone,” Dr. Reed said. “We need the entire veterinary profession to say this is not acceptable and we have to do better.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Brian Garish.
The Wake Up, Vet Med initiative, led by the Multicultural VMA, drafted a list of actionables originally aimed at the AVMA. The initiative has been expanded to include other veterinary organizations because the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion is not limited to just the AVMA, said Dr. Marie Sato Quicksall, president-elect and founding board member of the MCVMA.
“We have recommended all organizations look at implementing the seven sections of actionables we presented to the AVMA,” she said.
Self-assessment: Understand where you and your organization currently stand concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Accessibility: Ensure equitable processes for all members, including people of color, to join and grow within your organization and leadership. Consider what barriers there may be for people in your organization to advance into leadership positions and how you can remove or lower those barriers.
Accountability and transparency: Implement processes for which you and your organization will be held accountable regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
Expanding membership: Identify opportunities to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive membership. Start by looking at the level of diversity your organization has and how you can expand upon it.
Organizational commitment: Ensure you, your organization, and its leadership are committed, culturally competent, and acting in the best interests of all members.
Investment: Provide financial and structural commitments to improve the state of DEI. Donate your time and money to organizations that support DEI.
Outreach and engagement: Advance lasting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. This can be achieved through multiple means, including mentorship, providing and amplifying opportunities, and reaching out to underrepresented groups.
In a Twitter thread, Lisa Greenhill, EdD, senior director for institutional research and diversity at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, discussed blind spots in K-12 recruiting of people of color in veterinary medicine.
The AVMA has a list of resources for veterinary professionals related to diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
The Veterinary Medical Association Executives compiled a list of tools to assist veterinary organizations in advancing DEI efforts.