Career event teaches underrepresented students about veterinary medicine

The AVMA recently hosted more than 30 young adults at a Chicago veterinary clinic for an immersive experience in animal medicine as part of the Association’s ongoing efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the veterinary profession.

Participants in the AVMA’s Veterinary Career Exploration Event, held January 3 before the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, were part of the nonprofit Focus On Critically Using Our Skills, or FOCUOS, which works to empower underserved youth through mentorship and positive programming.

A veterinarian demonstrates suturing techniques for students
AVMA President Rena Carlson looks on as students from Focus On Critically Using Our Skills (FOCUOS) receive a demonstration in suturing techniques.

The event took place at the Animal Advocate Pet Hospital, which is owned by Dr. Stefanie Clay-Smith. The youth and their chaperones rotated among stations throughout the clinic where staff spoke about various aspects of veterinary medicine, such as diagnostics, animal behavior and diseases, and humane handling techniques.

Participants also interacted with animals brought in for the day, including a sheep, goat, and baby chicks.

Students interact with a veterinarian holding a baby chick
Many FOCUOS students had their first experience with several animal species brought to the Animal Advocate Pet Hospital in Chicago for AVMA’s Veterinary Career Exploration Event.

Afterward, they shared a pizza lunch with AVMA staff and officers, including Drs. Rena Carlson, AVMA president; Sandra Faeh, AVMA president-elect, and Janet Donlin, AVMA executive vice president and CEO.

Dr. Kemba Marshall, founder of Marshall Recruiting Consortium, which focuses on increasing DEI in agriculture and animal health sciences, spoke about the various opportunities in veterinary medicine, from private and corporate practice to pet retail to public health.

Dr. Rachel Cezar-Martin, a veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who oversees federally regulated animal activities in the South, spoke about her work ensuring a safe supply of animal protein.  

FOUCUS members and AVMA volunteers pose for a group picture
FOCUOS members and AVMA volunteers pose for a picture after lunch.

“The Veterinary Career Exploration event was a big success,” said Michael Wilson, AVMA’s director of conventions and meeting planning. “The experience was so new to the kids that the surprise and excitement on their faces was priceless.”

Programs like FOCUOS offer opportunities to expose students to career fields—in this case veterinary medicine—coupled with hands-on experience. Offering a pathway for entry into the field to a diverse community is one of many necessary steps to sustain a diverse veterinary workforce.

Latonia Craig, EdD, AVMA’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer, has worked with other programs, such as the Critter Fixer’s Vet for a Day events, to continue to build a pipeline for those underrepresented in veterinary medicine. This past November, she and Drs. Vernard Hodges and Terrence Ferguson, gathered with pre-veterinary students at Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky, to visit the Equine Medical Center at Churchill Downs as well as Second Stride Farm to learn more about the equine veterinary industry.