Guidelines for Enhancing Diversity in Veterinary Medicine

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Annie J. Daniel, founder and CEO of the National Association for Black Veterinarians, has a partnership with Vernard Hodges and Terrence Ferguson of the TV show Critter Fixers. Student ambassadors join the team for a Vet for a Day program, which introduces students to the veterinary profession.

The National Association of Black Veterinarians (NABV) is championing diversity in the predominantly White field of veterinary medicine by empowering students and advocating for guidelines in veterinary schools that support diverse enrollment.

This work is essential, considering the disparities present across the profession. According to 2023 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black or African American veterinarians represent only 1.3% of the profession. The report also indicates that 90% of veterinarians are White, 5.9% are Asian, and 7.9% are Hispanic or Latino.

Historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups made up approximately 25% of veterinary students in 2023, an increase from less than 5% in 1980, according to the “2022-2023 Annual Data Report” by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).

Annie J. Daniel, PhD

In order to continue advancing progress, veterinary schools can consider incorporating a number of best practices, according to Annie J. Daniel, PhD, founder and CEO of both NABV and its umbrella organization, the Institute for Healthcare Education Leadership and Professionals.

National Association of Black Veterinarians

Established in 2016, the mission of NABV is to increase the number of African Americans in the field of veterinary medicine. Daniel was inspired to launch the organization through her previous role at the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Veterinary Medicine and her discussions with students of color actively seeking a supportive community.

NABV now boasts a network of more than 25 college chapters nationwide, each composed of dedicated student leaders who have championed the organizatio’’s establishment at their respective institutions.

NABV offers a mentorship network on a national level that facilitates connections with peers and professionals in the field, enabling students to cultivate relationships, enhance skill sets, and build upon career goals. Furthermore, a featured job board and a member veterinarian and business owner directory is available to assist those seeking internships and employment.

The organization hosts an annual conference each year; the 2024 event is scheduled for June 6-8. Last year, the popular event saw over 360 attendees, 50 speakers, and nearly 40 exhibitors. NABV also hosted its inaugural Scholarship Gala in 2023, a fundraiser designed to support veterinary students in need.

Students have shown overwhelming support for the conference since its inception, says Daniel.

“[Students say,] ‘I’ve never seen another Black veterinarian, I didn’t know they existed, I didn’t know if I should continue on, but I’m so glad you had the conference, I’m so glad I came. … Just keep doing it because we need this, we need to be around people that look like us so we can know that this is attainable,’” she says.

Best Practices for Veterinary Schools

Daniel is concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in college admissions might encourage veterinary schools to stall progress on meeting DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) goals.

There are viable actions that would remedy this issue. She emphasizes the research by Thomas Durant Jr., PhD, emeritus professor of sociology at Louisiana State University, who identifies 12 core components for modeling diversity and inclusion that are crucial for schools to incorporate in their efforts to diversify the veterinary profession.

First, Daniel says, it’s important to address financial barriers by offering scholarship opportunities designated for underrepresented students, and to make these programs available prior to program acceptance.

Also essential are support networks for all stakeholders, including mentorship programs between students and professionals, support groups for faculty and staff to better counsel students, and continuing relationships with groups across networks who can assist with recruitment, such as with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and alumni groups.

Programs should also embrace K-12 age groups, Daniel says, a goal the NABV plans to advance in the future. For example, summer bridge programs can be especially effective in introducing to and preparing underrepresented high schoolers for veterinary careers.

Across administration, it is also imperative to have an office or set of staff members who are dedicated to, and accountable for, advancing institutional DEI goals, she says. For the best success, colleges should recruit underrepresented faculty and staff who represent diverse classes of students to enhance belonging and acceptance.

To spread awareness about programming, targeted communications and advertising efforts should also be prioritized, says Daniel. Capacities for monitoring progress should be developed and strengthened over time.

“The only way [for veterinary schools] to diversify the profession is to admit Black students into their programs,” says Daniel. “I really think that veterinary schools have been the gatekeepers all these years, and they decide who they want to let in and who they’re not going to let in. It’s time for them to open the gate.”