Certificate Program Focuses on Human Element of Animal Care

A 45-foot-long bronze sculpture at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine depicts the history of the human-animal bond. (photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr)

In 2011, the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC) of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) released its assessment of the state of veterinary medicine. NAVMEC’s report drew on responses from 400 stakeholders in veterinary licensing, accreditation, and education and recommended ways of ensuring that the profession meets the needs of today’s society. Key among the report’s recommendations is the development of students’ understanding of diversity and how belief systems affect the delivery of veterinary care.

The Center of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University is making strides toward increasing cultural competence in veterinary medicine and ensuring that NAVMEC’s recommendations are put into practice.

[Above: A 45-foot-long bronze sculpture at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine depicts the history of the human-animal bond. (photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr)]

Established at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine (PVM) in 2013, the center is a partnership between the college, the AAVMC, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Since 2014, the center has offered an online certificate program in diversity and inclusion to give veterinary students, faculty, and professionals the intercultural knowledge they need to provide what the center calls “human-centered veterinary medicine.”

“Human-centered veterinary medicine recognizes that a veterinarian’s relationship with an animal’s caretaker is a crucial factor in optimizing that animal’s health and well-being,” Kauline Cipriani and Sandra San Miguel, co-directors of the center, said in an email. “We believe the concept of human-centered veterinary medicine could advance the profession by promoting the societal impacts of the profession — advances in animal health improve human health — and how supportive and inclusive relationships among veterinary professionals, and between veterinary professionals and animal owners, positively impact animal health and well-being.”

Cipriani is also the director of diversity initiatives at PVM, and San Miguel is a professor of swine production medicine and associate dean for engagement at the college. They said that one reason for developing the center and the certificate program was the result of a book they co-edited, Navigating Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine.

“We decided to establish the center in response to the call for action, as well as the need to provide [national] educational opportunities to multiple stakeholders within the profession,” they said. “The certificate program was developed to directly respond to the need for practical, veterinary profession-focused education in diversity and inclusion that could be a national resource.”

The certificate program is available nationally, and those who enroll complete a series of online modules focused on core competencies in diversity and multicultural awareness, on topics ranging from generational diversity to sexual orientation. Participants are also required to complete one to three hours of community service, take part in cultural events in their community, attend national or local meetings related to diversity and inclusion in veterinary medicine, and submit an essay detailing how they will use what they have learned from the course in their career.

As of January, 257 veterinary faculty members, administrators, and professional veterinarians and technicians — as well as veterinary medical, tech, and pre-vet students — have participated in the online program. Cipriani and San Miguel said that faculty members from 29 of the 30 U.S. veterinary schools and from two international schools are involved with the program. Because the creation of the program was a collaborative effort that called upon experts in the field, they said it allowed them to build modules that mirror real-life situations veterinarians often encounter.

“Scenarios reflecting common occurrences in the classroom or workplace were added to illustrate topics such as microaggressions or stereotype threats,” Cipriani and San Miguel said. “The end goal is that participants will be able to recognize less inclusive climates, language, or behavior and also have the tools and language to respond in a meaningful way to create positive change within the veterinary profession.”

The program lasts one year, and those who complete all coursework earn nine hours of continuing education credits. The cost to enroll is $100 for students and $300 for faculty and veterinary practitioners; discounts are available for groups. And Cipriani and San Miguel said that feedback from program participants has been extremely positive.

“Most comments include that the program resulted in an expanded view of diversity beyond race and ethnicity,” they said. “Participants cite how the program has motivated them to improve their communication and leadership skills. Most importantly, participants report [that] they now feel better equipped to promote inclusion through teaching and mentoring in the veterinary profession.”

Cipriani and San Miguel hope to collect more data on participants’ cultural competence and develop a framework to further improve work and learning environments in the veterinary field. Additionally, faculty at many colleges have incorporated modules from the certificate program into their classes. Still, Cipriani and San Miguel said they would like to see even greater participation in the program.●

Rebecca Prinster is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.