Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become increasingly important issues in all sectors of society, including vet med professionals. The importance of DEI in this field is crucial as it plays a significant role in ensuring optimal care is provided to all animals, their owners, and the staff that provides care. So why is DEI vital in the veterinary industry? DEI is a complex topic that cannot simply be covered in one blog post, and must be a continuous conversation to make positive change possible.
The I.D.E.A. Team at PetDesk is excited to highlight the experience and thoughts of Dr. Desiree English. Dr. English owns her own veterinary practice, Tower Road Animal Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, and we’ve highlighted some key concepts to go along with the conversation.
The Veterinary Industry Is Not Immune to Discrimination and Bias
Like any other profession, veterinarians and other industry professionals have implicit biases, which can impact their decisions. These biases can lead to disparities in care, resulting in certain animals and their owners receiving inadequate care or being overlooked altogether. By implementing DEI practices, veterinary medicine professionals can mitigate the impact of these biases and ensure that every animal and their owner receives equitable and fair treatment.
When asked what types of biases Dr. English has overcome when practicing veterinary medicine for underserved communities, she said:
“…This is changing– but I think there are some… preconceptions that a lot of people have, that people of color don’t care about their pets as much as white people; that they’re not going to be as willing to spend money on their pets, not going to be as willing to take care of their pets… I’ve run into that attitude a lot, and it’s not true. […]
In general, people of color–and this is just how our society is–tend to be more represented on the lower income. Not everybody who is a person of color is lower income, but more people that are people of color are [lower income]. So, I think when people have to decide between feeding themselves and feeding their pets, they are going to choose to feed themselves. And so there are some ideas that people just don’t care about their animals that I don’t think are true; but, I don’t think people have done the work to really look at why they have the idea that that’s how people of color are.”
DEI is crucial in veterinary medicine because it enables the industry to better serve a diverse population. People from different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and socio-economic backgrounds have different needs when it comes to animal care. By embracing DEI practices, the veterinary industry can provide caretailored to meet the unique needs of diverse populations, including underserved communities. This not only enhances the industry’s ability to provide quality care, but it also ensures animals are not neglected or mistreated because of their owner’s background.
What Can Veterinary Professionals Do to Promote DEI?
Many people see their pets as part of their family and consider them as important as any other family member. As a result, veterinarians and other industry professionals impact the beliefs and attitudes of the public toward DEI. By promoting DEI in their practices and through public education, the industry can help change societal attitudes towards marginalized communities and work towards a more just and equitable society.
DEI in the veterinary industry can also enhance the industry’s workforce. A diverse workforce brings a range of experiences and perspectives that can improve the quality of care provided to animals. A more diverse workforce can also promote creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. By embracing DEI practices, the industry can attract a wider pool of talent, ensuring that the best and the brightest work in the industry.
So how can the veterinary industry change and encourage underrepresented people to enter veterinary medicine? Representation matters. Dr. English had this insight:
“I think mentorship is important, and I think it goes both ways. I think [BIPOC] who are interested in building this profession should be willing to do some mentorship and visit schools or join community groups. Being able to see that, yes, there are [BIPOC] veterinarians out there is huge.
Veterinarians who are white also could go into those same schools [middle school, high school age] and neighborhoods to represent this profession as something that’s interesting to go into. Having students who are interested and already are confidently smart is where I feel like you can have the most influence to encourage them to join the veterinary industry.
Invite them into the practice, have shadow days, encourage people to consider the profession is where we could do better. Everyone wants diversity, but I think it takes everybody being willing to give a little bit of their time to spread the word that will make the difference.”
Elevating the DEI Conversation Going All Year Round
DEI discussions shouldn’t stop when February ends, and Dr. English feels the same.
“I feel like all year long is Black History Month for me. And so I do feel like it can become very trite. You know, the whole Black History Month thing, because I feel like what happens is that people are very inclusive and very interested until February 28th, and then the rest of the year they’re like, ‘Look, we had Black History Month. I don’t need to say anything else about this.’”
Every animal deserves access to high-quality care, regardless of their owner’s background. By ensuring that the industry is inclusive and equitable, the veterinary industry can help create a society where everyone has an equal opportunity to provide care for their pets.
“I do hope that we continue to have Black History Month, because I do think that it’s important to recognize the contributions of African Americans to our country. But, I don’t know that I see Black History month, specifically, as being any more useful as a time to reach out to people than in any other time of year.”
Start the Conversation with Your Veterinary Team
DEI is vital in the veterinary industry. It ensures that every animal receives the best possible care, regardless of their owner’s background. It also promotes the industry’s ability to better serve a diverse population and helps change societal attitudes towards marginalized communities. And don’t forget, DEI in the veterinary industry can enhance the industry’s workforce and promote creativity and innovation.
To help you start exploring and implementing DEI in your clinic, PetDesk has teamed up with Dr. Valerie Marcano of Pawsibilities for a CE webinar on February 28, 2023 at 10 am PST / 1 pm EST called Creating Inclusive Spaces in the Veterinary Profession. Dr. Marcano will define inclusion and inclusive spaces in veterinary medicine and help you discover common pitfalls and challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies as well as develop effective strategies for creating inclusive spaces. All registrants will receive a link to the recording to share with their teams.