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May 01, 2021

SAVMA president to elevate other voices

Martinez-Jaka talks about her background, plans for the year
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Hidayah Martinez-Jaka, a student in the Class of 2022 at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, is believed to be the first woman of color to serve as Student AVMA president. She says that in her role as president, she’s here to support veterinary students.

Hidayah performing an ultrasound exam on a goat
Hidayah Martinez-Jaka, shown here performing an ultrasound exam on a goat, is a member of the Class of 2022 at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and is believed to be the first woman of color to serve as Student AVMA president. (Photos courtesy of Martinez-Jaka)

“I see leadership through SAVMA not as a way to benefit myself but to lift other voices up,” Martinez-Jaka said.

She was installed as the 2021-22 SAVMA president during the SAVMA Symposium. The event, held virtually March 12-15, was hosted by Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine (see story).

Martinez-Jaka spoke with JAVMA News about her plans for the year, being a part of the most racially and ethnically diverse SAVMA Executive Board in history, and why she’s involved in organized veterinary medicine. The following answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Q. Can you tell me about yourself?

A. I was born and raised in Virginia. I’m half Latinx and half South Asian.

When I was 14 years old, my family adopted a flock of chickens. I fell in love with them as pets, and my passion for veterinary medicine grew from that.

I love the process of diagnosing and healing animals. I love the science, too, as well as the merging of empathy and knowledge.

I want to be a part of the profession and benefit the world around me. I plan to go into surgery or mixed animal medicine. I also want to continue to advocate for the profession and be involved in organized veterinary medicine. I don’t want to disappear into clinical work, even though I love it. I want to keep being involved in my community and giving back.

Q. Why did you choose Virginia-Maryland, and what has it been like being in school during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A. I considered a lot of schools, but I am a Virginia native and going to an in-state school costs less. Virginia-Maryland is also a hidden gem. I knew from the first moment I stepped into the building and met the students and faculty. We have such a good community that is supportive, open, and caring.

I am also the first SAVMA president from our school.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging. Students across the country have been faced with more online classes, and some schools have gone to all online or a hybrid model. The lack of in-person experience with colleagues or live animal time has been a huge challenge.

At Virginia-Maryland, in-person laboratories have been prioritized, but with reduced capacity and safety guidelines in place, such as masking and social distancing. I feel thankful to be able to do those in-person laboratories. I’m also thankful to all our schools for doing their best in this challenging time. This also shows how much veterinary students are doing their best to learn and adapt.

Q. Do you have any advice for incoming first-year students?

A. Take a moment now as you get ready to start veterinary school to remind yourself how far you have come and how hard you have worked to be here. You bring something unique to the profession, and that is beautiful. You are valued, and you belong here.

Give yourself grace in tough times. You bring something to the table that no one else does, and that is what matters. Reflect on your skills and your strengths. The days are long, but the years are short. Not every day is going to be the best day, but you’ll have days that will remind you of why you are here.

If you are underrepresented like me, we stand on the shoulders of those who have sacrificed for us. But we have also sacrificed. We have the opportunity to make it smoother for those coming after us. Reach back, and bring people with you. Don’t lose sight of what we can do for our profession. We are at a turning point and an opportunity for growth. People are ready to hear this, and we are ready to take action. It comes from all of us, and there are many of us out here ready to support each other.

Q. What do you like about organized veterinary medicine, and what do you hope to accomplish as SAVMA president?

A. I think organized veterinary medicine is an awesome avenue for us to join forces from all different fields and walks of life to inform and educate each other. We can trade resources and ideas and grow communities. It is a powerful tool for our profession.

My overarching goal as president is to serve my fellow veterinary students by creating transparency on all levels in veterinary medicine so we can grow the value of SAVMA membership. I want to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion; mentorship; well-being; and student debt. I also will take students' input on the current challenges they’re facing.

We have a chance to shape the profession. I want to champion our ability to shape it. This is a unique time as students have persevered through a very challenging year. Students are getting through online classes, health concerns, family concerns, and mental health struggles. I see our community becoming stronger. We will continue to be strong and emerge as amazing veterinarians.

We also have an incredible SAVMA Executive Board this year. There are 10 of us and we are the most diverse board in SAVMA history. I am so excited to be a part of it. We are all accomplished, qualified, and powerful.

Electing leadership is only a part of the solution, along with action, but this still indicates our future veterinarians are pushing for change. We understand it is a big moment and a big responsibility. We are ready to serve and amplify the voices of underrepresented students who have not seen ourselves on a leadership level like this before.

It gives me chills to say. I’m really proud and honored.

Hidayah and Sammy
Hidayah Martinez-Jaka and pet rooster, Sammy