The veterinary profession hasn’t exactly got a good reputation when it comes to diversity.
Back in 2013, an article from The Atlantic dubbed veterinary medicine as the whitest profession in America. According to the post, a whopping 96.5% of vets at the time in the US were white .
Though this painted a less than flattering portrait of the profession, not much has changed since. Despite pushes to make veterinary medicine more inclusive, it remains one of the whitest professions in both the UK and US.
But why is this the case?
And does the profession REALLY care about diversity- or does it just seem like it does?
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Veterinarian Demographics: A Diversity Dilemma
When you look at demographic data on diversity, the statistics speak volumes.
According to Data USA, around 90% of veterinarians in the US are white. 4% are Asian, and less than 2% are Black . This is disproportionate to generic demographic data, where around 40% of the US population is Black, Hispanic, Native, or Asian .
70% of black veterinarians in the country are educated at a singular institution, Tuskegee University. Tuskegee is the only veterinary school in the country to be situated on a historically black campus. While an impressive feat for the school, this is slightly damning to the other 31 based around the country [4,5].
The outlook isn’t much better in the UK.
Although 14% of the UK population are made up of Black, Asian, or other minority populations, 97% of veterinary professionals are white.
Almost a quarter of vets in the UK come from privately educated backgrounds, a huge proportion, given that only 6% of the UK population are privately educated .
Why Is The Profession So Woefully Non-diverse?
There’s clearly a problem, but the issue is that no one really seems to know precisely why.
The most commonly cited reason essentially boils down to the cost of veterinary school.
In short, it isn’t cheap. The course fees alone are enough to make any financially savvy student think twice, and if you don’t have the resources to start with then the degree is virtually unobtainable. The often required ‘work experience’ hours can also be a huge barrier for many low-economic students, who may not have the luxury of forgoing income .
This viewpoint is backed up by data.
Research looking at the socioeconomic diversity of vet students found that the vast majority were from middle-upper class backgrounds . This may disproportionately hit minority students, who due to systematic and historic prejudice, are more likely to be in these groups .
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Internal and External Biases
But it also seems there is some distant bias going at play too.
According to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), when it comes to veterinary school offers, white students have a much higher chance of receiving one in comparison to their Hispanic, Asian, or Black counterparts .
Dr. Navaratnam Partheeban is a farm vet and co-founder of The British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society (BVEDS). He believes that the diversity gap begins even earlier than this, stretching right back to childhood.
‘Children start to think about their futures from a young age- at around seven or eight years old. If you don’t reach out to them then, it’s very difficult at secondary school to really change their minds.’
‘At the moment, we’ve still got this idea that vets are white and male. This perception dissuades minority students from pursuing veterinary medicine, as it’s presented as not an option for them’.
‘And although vet schools are trying to widen participation, it’s simply not enough.’
School careers officers have also played a role in dissuading children from non-privileged backgrounds to not applying to veterinary medicine. The BVA’s Young Vet of The Year 2020, Dr. Fabian Rivers reported that:
‘As I grew older and grew more passionate for the type of thing that I wanted to do, which was only [to] be a vet. The greater the hurdles became and the resistance wasn’t necessarily about the Accademia side, it was about how I presented as an individual going into that. And that’s where the doubt came from. It came from all parts, it was career advisors or science teachers, or people who were in veterinary medicine.’
How Much Do We Really Care About Diversity?
Although various veterinary bodies have made moves towards greater inclusivity and diversity, the profession is moving at a snail pace.
This may be due, in part, to how we prioritize diversity within our workplaces.
In the UK, research has found that only 45% of vets are concerned about diversity in the workplace.
More tellingly, in the same survey, 721 respondents (out of 2445) reported that they had experienced or witnessed discrimination, 25% of these cases being racially related. Of the incidents, two-thirds went unreported .
This begs the question of, how much do we really care about diversity as a profession?
Why Diversity is Important
Although many people would argue that the profession has bigger fish to fry right now (aka, the workforce crisis), there’s a case to be made for diversity.
It is not only a moral imperative but also necessary. As clientele becomes more diverse, vets are increasingly becoming less like them, and more distant from their wants and needs.
How can they hope to help animals if they don’t understand the people bringing them in?
There is also a strong case that opening the profession up to a wider section of society will, in time, also help to address the workforce crisis as the applicant pool expands.
And again, although many would make the case that the profession will naturally diversify, currently in some areas we’re actually getting less diverse. In 2016, for example, the total black vet population in the US stood at 2.1%, and in 2019 it was 1%. A notable decline.
The profession is not moving fast enough and missing huge opportunities (as well as ignoring a moral imperative) to step up and take responsibility for a problem that should have been addressed a long time ago.
How You Can Make Your Workplace More Inclusive
When it comes to making workspaces more inclusive, Dr. Partheeban has a number of suggestions for employees and employers alike.
‘The first thing people need to do is to recognize that there is an issue in the first place, as I think a lot of people are blind to that.’
‘Veterinary leaders also need to change the way they create job ads. They need to be writing them in a way that attracts an array of candidates.’
The biggest thing practice owners, managers, or directors can do, says Theeb, is create a thorough reporting system.
‘Leaders need to let their employees know that when something does go wrong, what safeguarding processes are in place to protect them. One of the biggest failings I see in practices and universities is their reporting mechanisms. People say that they don’t have problems, and that’s because they have no way of actually seeing if there are any.’
Diagnostics are the basis for exploring any problem. As things stand, the laboratory findings for diversity in veterinary medicine display several abnormalities that must be addressed before it can be considered anything like healthy.
For more advice on how to make your workplace more inclusive, check out the BVEDS website here.
1- ‘The 33 Whitest Jobs in America – The Atlantic.’ 6 Nov. 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/11/the-33-whitest-jobs-in-america/281180/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2021.
2- ‘Veterinarians | Data USA.’ https://datausa.io/profile/soc/veterinarians. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
3- ‘Mapped: Visualizing the U.S. Population by Race – Visual Capitalist.’ 28 Dec. 2020, https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-u-s-population-by-race/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
4- ‘How Tuskegee University educates 70% of … – Alabama NewsCenter.’ 1 Apr. 2019, https://rss.alabamanewscenter.com/2019/04/01/tuskegee-university-educates-70-african-american-veterinarians-u-s/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
5- ‘FAQs – AAVMC.’ https://www.aavmc.org/about-aavmc/faqs/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
6 – ‘BVA report on discrimination in the veterinary profession.’ https://www.bva.co.uk/media/2991/bva-report-on-discrimination-in-the-veterinary-profession.pdf. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
7- ‘Diversity and changing demographics: how they will affect veterinary ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15551239/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
8- ‘Research Sheds Light on Diversity and Bias in Veterinary School ….’ 16 Apr. 2021, https://www.insightintodiversity.com/research-sheds-light-on-diversity-and-bias-in-veterinary-school-admissions/. Accessed 7 Oct. 2021.
9- ‘Poverty Rates for Blacks and Hispanics Reached Historic Lows in ….’ 15 Sept. 2020, https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2020/09/poverty-rates-for-blacks-and-hispanics-reached-historic-lows-in-2019.html. Accessed 7 Oct. 2021.
10- ‘Research Sheds Light on Diversity and Bias in Veterinary School ….’ 16 Apr. 2021, https://www.insightintodiversity.com/research-sheds-light-on-diversity-and-bias-in-veterinary-school-admissions/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
11- ‘BVA report on discrimination in the veterinary profession.’ https://www.bva.co.uk/media/2991/bva-report-on-discrimination-in-the-veterinary-profession.pdf. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.