Diversity, Inclusion, and Veterinary Medicine:  At the Least, We Are Changing

Kauline Cipriani Davis
Kauline Cipriani Davis
Lisa Greenhill
Lisa Greenhill

In 2013, The Atlantic named the veterinary profession the “whitest profession” in the United States.

While a shocking characterization to some, it echoed an article published a decade earlier in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, which declared it the “most segregated of all the health professions.”

These very public assessments sound harshly negative, yet in reality, they have served to energize diversity initiatives at our nation’s schools of veterinary medicine.

In 2005, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) began actively nurturing institutional change through the launch of its DiVersity Matters (DVM) initiative. The program encourages veterinary schools and colleges to devote the effort and resources necessary to increase the number of historically underrepresented students who are admitted into professional DVM degree programs; to graduate veterinary professionals who possess cultural competency; and to create inclusive learning environments where all students can thrive.

Since 2005, the number of racially and ethnically underrepresented students in veterinary medicine has nearly doubled, from 951 to 1,810. Although this still only represents 14.6 percent of total veterinary student enrollment, the change is significant in light of the impact these students will have on the future of the profession. Additionally, textbooks devoted to the study of diversity and inclusion in veterinary medicine have been created and are now being used in colleges around the country.

Through the AAVMC, veterinary medical schools also have access to survey tools focusing on various aspects of institutional climate. Furthermore, regionally organized collaborative symposia hosted by veterinary medical colleges explore a range of diversity issues, including gender, sexuality, disability, and diversity within the context of the DVM curriculum.

The Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine (PVM) provides an example of some of the progressive diversity work occurring at the nation’s veterinary schools. PVM strives to continually sustain an institutional climate that is welcoming to and supportive of all students, faculty, and staff, recognizing that specific minority populations may have unique needs.

Since his arrival in 2007, PVM Dean Willie Reed has demonstrated a broad commitment to increasing diversity and inclusiveness within the veterinary profession by launching several initiatives designed to enhance the intercultural competence of those who study and work at PVM. These initiatives include establishing an office of diversity initiatives, as well as a diversity action committee that is composed of representatives from across the college, including students. The committee serves in an advisory role to the dean and monitors the progress of the college’s first strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. This plan details PVM’s strategy for recruitment and for promoting an inclusive learning and working climate.

PVM is also home to a vibrant chapter of Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE), a national

student organization founded at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. The Purdue VOICE chapter

Dean Willie Reed (center) with students of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University
Dean Willie Reed (center) with students of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University

organizes monthly presentations on topics such as practicing veterinary medicine in an urban environment and women who work in large-animal medicine.

Additionally, several diversity symposia have been organized, one of which occurs regularly on Purdue’s campus. The Iverson Bell Midwest Regional Diversity Summit, co-hosted by PVM and Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, focuses on the theme “Diversifying the Curriculum.”

PVM also led the publication of Navigating Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine, the first book of its kind for the profession. Recently, in partnership with the AAVMC and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), PVM launched the Center of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine, which offers online certificate programs for faculty, staff, students, interns, and residents at any veterinary school, as well as practicing veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

These initiatives have had a measurable impact. Between fall 2006 and fall 2013, the presence of racially and ethnically underrepresented minority DVM students at Purdue increased by 12.2 percent, placing PVM in the lead of universities in the Big Ten Conference with colleges of veterinary medicine.

In these ways, Purdue University serves as a great example of what is being done at many veterinary schools nationwide. In the coming years, we anticipate the launch of more diversity-related centers of excellence, more research on the impact of institutional diversity climates on student performance and well-being, and targeted recruiting efforts that enhance the appeal of a veterinary medical degree across a broader and more diverse audience.

The diversity efforts of veterinary medical schools are not without their challenges. Disparate political climates, lack of legal protections for veterinary students, and a shortage of minority faculty members — in terms of sexual orientation and other dimensions of diversity — as well as dwindling public support for higher education, affect these schools’ ability to attract the talent required to prepare future professionals. The constant need to recruit new students into the admissions pipeline also brings with it the need to educate the families of underrepresented students on the unique value of a veterinary degree. More scholarship and grant money will be required to ensure broad access by a diverse population of prospective students.

Despite these challenges, the future looks bright for veterinary medicine. The efforts to date have precipitated meaningful change within veterinary schools, which will ripple through the entire profession. With these forces of change at work, there is every reason to hope that, a decade from now, veterinary medicine will not show up on any list of “least diverse” professions, but rather will be viewed as a model of the transformative power associated with truly valuing diversity.●

Kauline Cipriani Davis, PhD, is the director of diversity initiatives for Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. Lisa Greenhill, EdD, is the associate executive director for institutional research and diversity for the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.