A Guide for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine

Stage 1 – Embracing the Case for Change

Video Introductions

Journey Overview

Introduction to Stage 1

1.1: This Moment in Time

It’s easy to assume that one event in a single moment in time suddenly awakens one to seeing the world anew.

In reality, an epiphany or the miracle of insight is rarely due to one incident. It comes about slowly, gently traveling through successive experiences, some are noticed and filed away, and some escape conscious attention. All the while they’re building upon each other until they finally converge into one aha moment, spilling out into the conscious mind and changing an individual forever.

That’s what happened for many with the brutal killing of George Floyd by white police officers in the summer of 2020. Suddenly Americans, and indeed the globe, seemed to finally wake up to the unending racial violence and injustice that happens in this country. Floyd wasn’t the first Black man to be killed by police. There’s a long and tragic list of deaths of Black individuals, lives taken at the hands of law enforcement or violent white citizens, each one building upon the memory of the previous ones until at last it’s understood that such violence can no longer be tolerated. Many Americans finally recognized that light must shine into society’s darkest corners to end systemic racism and the violence it inspires. At no time since the Civil War have so many felt so strongly about the need for change in how Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are treated.

The summer of 2020 was also a pivotal moment for the veterinary profession. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, a group of nearly a dozen veterinary associations representing diverse veterinarians called on the profession to act to address the lack of diversity and to end discrimination in veterinary medicine. It was time to acknowledge the race problem. WakeUpVetMed, their Call to Action, and the awareness it brought with it was the necessary wake-up call and it is the light that will lead the profession in the direction that’s long overdue.

At approximately 90% white, veterinary medicine is one of the least racially and ethnically diverse professions in the United States, and racially and ethnically diverse students don’t apply in high enough numbers to veterinary colleges.

Just like in the rest of society, there are too many examples of how racism, discrimination and injustice play out across the profession, committed by management against employees, veterinarians against veterinarians, veterinary teams against clients and clients against veterinary teams, faculty against students, students against students, and team mates against one another. Anyone who may be perceived as different can be a target.

It plays out in other ways, both large and small. Gender pay discrimination continues to plague women in the profession. Generational differences and resistance to change prevent a deeper understanding of the educational debt that plagues new graduates and lead to tone deaf, ageist comments.

Clients face discrimination from veterinary teams when assumptions and judgments are made based on tropes that should have ceased long ago. “Black people don’t take care of their animals.” “The disheveled man dressed in a ripped shirt and pants who drives an old, dented truck can’t afford to pay.” “Speaking loudly to the woman with broken English will make her understand.”

Studies show that discrimination and injustice negatively affect mental and emotional health, including causing low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and other health conditions. Those who work in the profession don’t need another stressor and clients who seek veterinary care for their animals shouldn’t have to suffer stress due to unjust treatment.

What is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)?

While racism has been the main focus of discussion in America, the term diversity encompasses the full range of human differences. The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) defines diversity as “the recognition of many dimensions, including, but not limited to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, cultural background, language, cognitive style, nationality, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and other forms of differences, both visible and invisible.”

Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. It means providing people what they need rather than treating everyone the same. Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed.

When talking about diversity, it’s important to acknowledge the concept of “intersectionality,” which is defined as the intersection of oppressed identities and how they simultaneously affect an individual’s experiences. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term to encourage acknowledgement and understanding of individuals’ differences. A lens through which the world is viewed, Crenshaw says it’s “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”

Consider a Black man who is gay. A transgender female ostracized by her strict, religious family. A Latina daughter of an undocumented immigrant who suffers from a learning disability. A lesbian woman being physically and emotionally abused by her partner. Stopping discrimination requires working collaboratively to acknowledge and leverage differences for the benefit of all.  The concept of diversity is more than what makes individuals unique. It’s about respecting and appreciating one another for those differences as well as the state of feeling respected.

Bias is a natural inclination for or against something or someone and can lead to unfair treatment of a person or group of people. Bias is also, to a degree, a normal socio-bio function; the brain takes shortcuts to process vast amounts of information. These shortcuts can result in prejudgments that can lead to discriminatory beliefs or practices. Because many biases can be largely unconscious, building self-awareness is key to uncovering them.

Systemic racism comprises the systems and structures that disadvantage BIPOC. It’s a complex mixture of how policies, culture and institutions create disparities in wealth, employment, housing, healthcare, politics, education and the criminal justice system. If proof it exists is needed, consider that the average net worth of a typical white family in America is ten times that of a Black family, all as a result of the complex conditions that play out against BIPOC.

“I Don’t See Color”

A common response to a discussion about racism is “I don’t see color.” It’s usually well-intentioned, a way of signaling someone doesn’t discriminate, that they treat people equally regardless of their race or ethnicity. But can a white person honestly say that they don’t see the skin color of the Black person standing in front of them, or the veterinarian from India who’s sitting next to them at an educational event?

In a recent article in Today’s Veterinary Business, Dr. Lisa Greenhill writes that a statement of colorblindness in response to a conversation about racism is a way to avoid uncomfortable feelings and the examination of one’s behaviors or beliefs. In fact, it can feel like a dismissal and serves to shut down conversations. Greenhill says that colorblindness “absolves us of the need to do any personal work to understand our social roles in perpetuating white supremacy, and all of us, including BIPOC, unwittingly prop up white supremacy in one way or another.”

He, She, They, Ze – Why do Gender Pronouns Matter?

Pronouns are words that people use to refer to others, and they are typically used based on someone’s appearance. While sex is a label that’s assigned at birth based on genitalia and chromosomes, gender is a social construct, a set of expectations from society. Gender identity is an internal perception of gender and how people label themselves. Assuming a person’s pronouns without first asking can cause harm. A key to a safe space for people of all sexes and gender identities is using gender pronouns respectfully.


The way to counter discrimination and to support and assist a marginalized person or group is to become an ally. What does it mean exactly? It’s more than just voicing support on social media. It’s actively and consistently using one’s privilege to stand up against acts of injustice and promoting and advancing a culture of inclusion. In another recent article in Today’s Veterinary Business, Dr. Greenhill writes that there are five key elements of allyship that must be pursued constantly and simultaneously:

  1. Commit to lifelong learning about all forms of oppression including racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc.
  2. Expect to follow and not lead, as allyship centers on elevating the voices that have been silenced.
  3. Be vulnerable and willing to demonstrate your commitment to change.
  4. Recognize how your own life has benefitted by the systems in place and use your privilege to effect change.
  5. Never walk away from the work of being an ally.

It’s critical that those who are privileged learn how systemic discrimination impacts everyone, and not expect the people who’ve been marginalized to be the educators.

1.2: Why Executive Directors are Critical to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Veterinary Medicine

Veterinary medical associations (VMAs) play an important role in making veterinary medicine more diverse, equitable and inclusive. As leaders in the profession, association executives are in a unique position to influence positive change. Working with boards, executives can facilitate a thoughtful process with the intent of increasing awareness, advancing their organizations, assisting members, and ultimately benefiting the animals and communities the veterinary profession serves. Association executives have the power to effect powerful and lasting change.

To begin, though, self-examination is required. Meaningful work can’t take place without first recognizing personal biases, stations of privilege, how they affect one’s worldview, and the way others are treated.

Equally important, it must be acknowledged that racism exists in all aspects of society and within the veterinary profession. BIPOC in the profession consistently report that they feel undervalued, unsafe and exhausted from navigating unwelcoming environments. Other marginalized veterinarians and team members report similar feelings. It’s imperative they are listened to and steps are taken to truly understand how they’re affected.

1.3: How Leading in DEI Benefits Veterinary Associations

“Associations that intend to remain relevant today and long into the future recognize the
strategic importance of diversity and inclusion as an association management discipline.”
American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)

According to ASAE, not only are there numerous benefits to associations adopting DEI principles, policies and strategies, it’s critical to maintaining relevance. Key to pursuing DEI is that it must be tied to mission. ASAE affirms that DEI enhances an organization’s mission because a diverse group of people in an inclusive culture is more likely to speak freely, think creatively, take risks, and is better able to develop solutions. In addition, DEI is proven to be profitable and improves competitive advantage through improved productivity, increased retention of employees, attracting new members, and fostering loyalty.

In their DEI Case Statement, ASAE lists the 10 key advantages for pursuing diversity and inclusion for associations:

  1. Creates a competitive advantage for the organization. Greater diversity brings more potential links to sources for identifying trends and opportunities. Organizations can take a better pulse on the environment the more communities it is tapping through its employee and volunteer base.
  2. Lowers organizational risk of litigation. Real and perceived discrimination can undermine the work climate. The association can be used as a setting to address societal biases and inequities.
  3. Achieves a high-quality, satisfied and dedicated workforce. Employees that feel better about their work environment, and their relative status within it, are likely to have lower absenteeism and turnover, contributing to a workforce of exceptional personnel and reducing recruitment costs.
  4. Reduces the potential for “groupthink.” A diverse team is more likely to have members who will challenge conventional wisdom and be willing to advocate unpopular or less well-known positions.
  5. Supports innovation and problem solving. Diversity can improve analytics and result in more creative solutions.
  6. Enhances the organization’s reputation. Members feel an affinity with an organization that appears to value them, some scholars and diversity practitioners argue that they also prefer to buy from it.
  7. Increases sales and market share. Diversity is said to expand organizational reach and relationships in new markets and bring insight and cultural sensitivity to marketing efforts.
  8. Facilitates connections and community. People are likely to be more drawn to the organization, and satisfied with their experience with it, if they can connect with organizational contacts who understand their values and interests.
  9. Takes the “pulse” of the operating environment. Diverse communities help in making an organization more responsive to environmental changes and at less cost.
  10. Eliminates rankism. An inclusive team or organization helps individuals learn, develop, and connect with one another and is less likely to create a culture of “somebodies” and “nobodies” in the organization.

Inclusive Leadership

In addition to an association’s mission, strategy and practices, commitment to DEI requires inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders demonstrate authentic commitment, humility, awareness of their own biases, curiosity about others, cultural intelligence, and effective, empowering collaboration.

Making organizations more diverse, equitable, and inclusive will lead to positive and meaningful change for those who for too long have been marginalized and discriminated against. DEI-advanced veterinary medical associations will help propel the profession forward, create more opportunities for BIPOC to choose veterinary medicine, and ultimately benefit animal and public health.

As leaders work to enact DEI principles and attract a more diverse population to enter the profession and join organized veterinary medicine, it’s important that associations aren’t just ticking a box by offering an occasional DEI session at a conference or displaying imagery showcasing diverse people. It’s important to engage in meaningful change by including DEI in strategic plans and through the annual allocation of resources.

The better it’s understood how to create diverse, equitable, and inclusive associations, and to implement strategies for DEI success, the sooner DEI can be advanced throughout the entire profession.

1.4: DEI Leads to Improved Workplaces and Greater Financial Success for Associations and Veterinary Practices

Implementing a DEI strategy in business is not just the right thing to do. Associations and veterinary practices that make DEI a strategic priority reap the benefits and the rewards. Employing DEI strategies will lead to a more satisfied and productive team and improved financial health.

Hiring a diverse workforce combined with an environment that’s inclusive, equitable, fair, and open creates a culturally caring and psychologically safe environment, one that fosters a sense of belonging regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, or other form of identity. Such a work environment not only leads to an improved sense of safety, resilience, and wellbeing, it increases morale and engagement, reduces conflict, and allows for authentic and transparent communications. Because employees feel more satisfied in their work, retention is increased and the replacement cost for employees is lower. It’s also easier to attract new employees. A satisfied workforce is the best marketing tool a business has to attract new members of the team.

A diverse workforce in an inclusive environment is essential for success in today’s world. According to a 2017 study, diverse and inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time, and they make them twice as fast in half the number of meetings. The study results also indicate that diverse teams deliver 60% better results. A diverse workforce is a key driver of innovation. Companies that are diverse and inclusive develop more relevant products and services. Better solutions can be developed when there are diverse ideas and approaches from myriad points of view.

Millennials and Generation Z

Millennials and Generation Z in particular take diversity into account when considering taking a job and they stay longer with companies that understand the needs of a diverse workforce. They expect organizations and businesses they work for, and buy from, to place DEI front and center in their business strategy, not as lip service but incorporated into the company ethos and the work ethic of their leaders. They’ve grown up with the understanding that DEI is critical to a fairly functioning society and they reject leaders and businesses who deny racism is a problem or whose ethics marginalize groups of people.

DEI and Business Success

Research has proven that businesses that have a diverse workforce and are more inclusive outperform the competition. It turns out that increasing diversity within a business not only is predictive of success but it’s also a catalyst.

According to a report from global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, in 2019 businesses with the greatest gender diversity within their leadership teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies with the least gender diverse management. Businesses with the greatest proportion of mixed ethnic and cultural composition outperformed those with the least ethnic and culturally diverse teams by 36% in profitability. Non-diverse executive teams come with a penalty. McKinsey found that companies with the least gender, ethnic and cultural diversity consistently underperformed as compared to all other companies.

Diversity, it follows, not only benefits those who are underrepresented. Diversity is a successful revenue generating business strategy for veterinary associations and practices, and indeed all types of businesses. Thriving in a competitive business environment requires creative thinking. When a business engages people with a diversity of minds, ideas, and approaches, better solutions are developed.

1.5: DEI Improves Veterinary Care Delivery and Creates Healthier Veterinary Practices

Veterinary medical association executives can directly impact animal and public health and veterinary practice success by fostering DEI principles within their organizations and by assisting in the facilitation of DEI principles in veterinary practice.

The U.S. population is becoming more diverse with each passing year. It’s critical for the outcome of the patient that veterinary teams understand the clients they serve. Not as in mastery of all cultures and their norms, but through recognition of one’s own biases, awareness of cultural dynamics, and being willing to adapt.

In human healthcare, it’s well documented that unsatisfactory doctor-patient communication can be a contributing factor to noncompliance, poor health outcomes, adverse events, and litigation. Delivering care to multicultural and minority populations with a lack of effective, culturally sensitive communication by medical teams can worsen the problem.

Cultural sensitivity is both the awareness and non-judgment of the differences and similarities that exist between people. In healthcare, each patient’s sociocultural background affects his or her behavior and beliefs about health. Providing culturally competent care means to be aware of biases and resolving differences that can lead to misunderstandings. A doctor or team member who’s unaware of his or her biases, who doesn’t understand and accommodate cultural differences, or who is unable to overcome a language barrier can lead to incomplete health assessments and potentially negative health consequences for the patient.

It’s been found in the medical profession that a diverse workforce with diverse perspectives leads to greater cultural sensitivity and communication and in addition, greater problem solving, better health access, and it lessens health disparities. A diverse team that is representative of the surrounding community, with diverse perspectives and effective communication, leads to improved compliance and patient outcomes. When clients from diverse backgrounds are treated respectfully and feel understood, compliance improves.

How cultural differences play out in veterinary medicine

In veterinary medicine, the client’s cultural background may affect his or her behavior and beliefs about their animal’s life and medical needs. In the following real-life situations, clients presented the veterinary team an opportunity to better understand cultural differences:

A family stood in the exam room. Their small, white Bichon had lived a long and happy life but the veterinarian recommended euthanasia for a humane ending. The veterinarian administered the euthanasia solution and the dog’s life came to a peaceful end. The veterinarian told the family to take all the time they needed with their beloved dog and exited the room. Almost immediately, the father, mother, and the teenage boy and girl began crying loudly, wailing their grief at the loss of their beloved friend. The sound alarmed the staff and waiting clients, but because of the veterinarian’s awareness and sensitivity she was able to inform the team and the other clients that it was normal for the members of their culture to mourn publicly.

In another scenario, a woman who had recently emigrated to America had to call and obtain her husband’s permission for the veterinarian to collect blood on their cat. The veterinary technician was taken aback by this display of deference to her husband, but the veterinarian reminded them that in some cultures and religions, husbands have the place of authority within the family.

In an article on Kansas State University’s website, they use other examples of how culture, ethnicity, religion, or ability may affect an owner’s visit to the veterinary practice and how important it is for veterinarians to sensitively acknowledge these differences. Consider the Jewish pet owner who won’t schedule a Saturday appointment because of the Sabbath, the blind gentleman facing an extended inability to navigate life while his dog recuperates from surgery, or the Native American woman who holds deep spiritual beliefs about the animals in her care. Posting welcoming language in the veterinary hospital goes a long way to reinforce an inclusive environment.

As Dr. Patty Khuly writes in an article in Veterinary Practice News, a person’s culture often plays a bigger role in a patient’s outcome than any treatment prescribed by the veterinarian.

Veterinary teams who are diverse and able to provide a non-biased and culturally sensitive approach to their clients lead to improved client compliance and health outcomes for the animal patient, and also increase client satisfaction and retention. In the VMAE | ThinkWORKS 2018 conference on DEI, Dr. Kauline Cipriani Davis said it’s accomplished through increasing self-awareness and knowledge of and appreciation for other cultures, through understanding the dynamics of difference, and by adapting behavior to match shifting cultural conditions.

Said another way, the report Road Map for Veterinary Medical Education in the 21st Century: Responsive, Collaborative, Flexible from the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC) stated, “Veterinarians and their teams must have an understanding of the manner in which culture and belief systems impact the delivery of veterinary care while recognizing and addressing biases in themselves.”

Culturally competent care leads to healthier veterinary practices

Veterinary clients who feel understood and respected, and whose social, cultural or linguistic needs are fully met, are more likely to remain loyal and compliant for the life of the animal and beyond. It follows then, that better retention leads to increased profits. A report from Bain & Co. notes that businesses that increase their customer retention rates by 5% results in 25% – 95% increased profit. According to Lee Resource, Inc., it costs five times more to attract a new client than it does to keep an existing one. In addition, loyal clients lead to more loyal clients. All one must do is watch clients’ Facebook feeds to see how often referrals to various professionals are requested.

Culturally competent care combined with a profession made up of diverse individuals point the compass towards improved health outcomes, loyal clients, and successful practices.

1.6: DEI Benefits the Public

An increasingly diverse veterinary profession, one that reflects the changing demographics, ultimately improves animal and public health through the improved delivery of veterinary care. A diverse veterinary profession will have a more thorough understanding of how culture and belief systems affect those who seek care for their animals.

The cost of veterinary care is out of reach for many of the pet owning public. A 2018 study by the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition (AVCC) found 28% of pet owners had recently experienced a barrier to veterinary care mostly due to financial reasons, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers may have grown higher. Approximately 50% of households with pets that participate in a federal nutrition program are racially and ethnically diverse.

Of course, many veterinarians do what they can to help clients facing financial hardship, but the numbers are simply too great resulting in animals being relinquished or suffering prolonged illness, pain, and premature death.

In addition to the inability to pay for care, there are cultural, language, and transportation barriers for pet owners to seek care for their pets. It’s a complex social issue, but AVCC’s study found that overwhelmingly, regardless of the reasons for the lack of access to care, owners consider their pets essential to their lives. They’re bonded to their non-human family members.  The myth must be dispelled that minority populations or those from economically disadvantaged areas don’t love pets enough to take them to the veterinarian.

Having money is no guarantee a pet will be loved and provided adequate care. Diverse populations have pets and consider them to be members of the family, but many have competing financial priorities. It’s a lack of material resources and/or access to affordable care, rather than a lack of love or desire to care for their animal.

Another myth that arises from bias and lack of understanding is that if more minority families owned pets there would be a more diverse population of people attracted to veterinary medicine. To be sure, diverse populations already own animals. Building a more diverse pipeline into the profession requires that the profession do more to foster relationships, support STEM education, expand BIPOC scholarships, and more deeply understand how “shadowing” experiences relevant for some in the pipeline are blocked by barriers for others.

A diverse veterinary profession will have a more thorough understanding of how culture and belief systems affect pet ownership, and animal owners who are able to see veterinarians and teams who look like them will be more likely to seek care. In an article in dvm360, Oklahoma State University’s veterinary school dean, Dr. Carlos Risco, also points out that individuals from underrepresented groups enter professions that will directly impact social issues facing their communities. Right now, it may not be clear how becoming a veterinarian will solve issues such as food insecurity or the lack of access to veterinary care.

A veterinary profession that reflects the changing demographics and reduces language and cultural barriers ultimately improves animal and public health through the enhanced delivery of veterinary care to all populations, especially in communities where economic and racial disparities exist. It will help lessen disease outbreaks and reduce both pet overpopulation and shelter relinquishment. It will also ensure a safe and secure food supply which depends on understanding cultures and reducing language barriers.

More broadly, it’s been found that a diverse health workforce increases medical knowledge and innovation because a diversity of thought and viewpoints contributes to better decision-making and enhanced communication, which leads to new medical interventions. Indeed, it can lead to accelerated advances in public health and medical research.

1.7: DEI and the Veterinary Profession

The veterinary profession must do better. Whether it’s working to attract more veterinary students from underrepresented populations, doing more in getting veterinary professionals up to speed in cultural competency, increasing understanding that DEI makes good business sense, fosters happier employees, and benefits animal and public health, there is much work to be done.

Following the death of George Floyd, ten DEI affinity organizations came together to address systemic racism in veterinary medicine and to challenge the profession to do better. Their letter and list of actionables was brought to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and has subsequently been endorsed by VMAs, veterinary colleges, individual veterinarians, industry, and others committed to taking action. The actionables are broadly grouped into seven categories appropriate to any organization or individual who wishes to advance DEI in veterinary medicine. In addition, they produced a video featuring the personal stories of 387 veterinarians and veterinary students who have experienced racism and discrimination.

The good news is that positive movement is being made, although it’s important to remember that the journey has barely begun. It’s also important to note that marginalized colleagues should not be expected to do the work on behalf of others. It’s up to those who are privileged to effect change.

The AVMA has implemented new goals within the organization. Together with the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), they’ve created the Commission for a Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Veterinary Profession. Made up of representatives from several veterinary organizations and industry, the Commission aims to promote DEI within the profession, expand the student pipeline, encourage welcoming workplaces, as well as encourage and assist VMAs and animal health companies to measure and improve DEI. AVMA has also developed continuing education programs, podcasts, and toolboxes to foster a more culturally conscious profession.

For some time, the AAVMC has been placing importance on diversity and inclusion as it pertains to veterinary student enrollment. They are actively working to attract a more racially and ethnically diverse student population that is more reflective of society and their efforts have resulted in the diversity of the U.S. student population increasing to just over 20% as of 2021. But even at that rate, it will take a long time to change the make-up of the profession.

Colleges of veterinary medicine across the U.S. have also increased their commitment to an inclusive institutional climate by preparing graduates to work in an increasingly diverse world, hiring diverse faculty, and developing programs to attract a more diverse student body.

Educational Pipeline

According to an article about promoting health equity and increasing minorities in secondary education in the U.S., students from low-income backgrounds, communities of color and first-generation college families are underrepresented in training programs for the scientific professions. In fact, out of one million active physicians, less than 6% are from racial and ethnic minorities. And it extends to other science and engineering professions as well. Studies show that health equity depends on a racially and ethnically diverse workforce who focus on underserved communities. Unfortunately, barriers to achieving diversity are established early in the educational pipeline because of inequities in funding, access to quality education, and adequate preparation for higher education.

The educational pipeline is the continuum that begins in early childhood and continues through high school, preparing students to successfully graduate from college. For the veterinary profession, pipeline development is the key to diversifying the profession by attracting and widening the pool of applicants to veterinary school from underrepresented groups of students.

Veterinary colleges have implemented new pipeline programs to achieve diversity but more needs to be done. VMAs can play a role in pipeline development through a variety of volunteer programs that foster kids’ interest in animal husbandry and expose them to the field of veterinary medicine. Summer camps, career days, collaborating with science teachers, guidance counselors and community non-profits, involvement with animal science or pre-vet clubs, and setting up scholarships are all ideas that can influence a young person to view veterinary medicine as a valid career.

There are so many young people who can enrich and improve our profession; we need to do more to create a welcoming, inclusive profession that they will be eager to explore and join. The more students from underrepresented groups that graduate from veterinary school, the easier it will become for animal owners to see a veterinarian who more closely resembles them and it will encourage others to enter the profession in the future.

But modeling and mentoring aren’t all that should be kept in mind. Race and ethnicity often are accompanied by a lower socio-economic status, and underrepresented students often don’t have some of the same advantages, rendering it more difficult to achieve academic success and entrance into veterinary school. High tuition and a lack of awareness about the costs also prevent many students from attending. Given that graduates often return to their hometowns, the more diverse students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds that graduate from veterinary school, the greater likelihood that they’ll go back to provide veterinary care and serve as role models to attract more students to the profession. It will become easier for animal owners to see the value of veterinary care when they work with a veterinarian who more closely resembles them.

Successful pipeline programs and a more diverse profession benefits the public sphere as well. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education states “ Individuals with higher degrees can expect to earn higher incomes. The result: more tax revenue and economic activity for the state. An educated, skilled population makes fewer demands on social services such as welfare and corrections. The result: less expense to the state.”

1.8: Professional Values and Ethics

Veterinarian’s Oath and Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics

Honoring diversity and practicing medicine equitably and inclusively are an important part of a veterinarian’s professional values beginning with the Veterinarian’s Oath:

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

The Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics reiterate the oath, expecting all veterinarians to adhere to an ethical code of conduct with regard to DEI.

    1. A veterinarian should view, evaluate and treat all persons, in any professional activity or circumstance in which they may be involved, solely as individuals on the basis of their own personal abilities, qualifications and other relevant characteristics.

9.1. As health professionals seeking to advance animal and public health, veterinarians should strive to confront and reject all forms of prejudice and discrimination that may lead to impediments to access of quality animal and public healthcare for clients/patients or lack of educational, training and employment opportunities for veterinary colleagues/students and other members of the animal healthcare team. These forms of prejudice and discrimination include, but are not limited to, race; ethnicity; physical and mental abilities; gender; sexual orientation; gender identity; parental status; religious beliefs; military or veteran status; political beliefs; geographic, socioeconomic, and educational background; and any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law.

Veterinary Technician Oath

Like veterinarians, veterinary technicians take an oath and are expected to adhere to their Code of Ethics.

I solemnly dedicate myself to aiding animals and society by providing excellent care and services for animals, by alleviating animal suffering, and promoting public health.  

I accept my obligations to practice my profession conscientiously and with sensitivity, adhering to the profession’s Code of Ethics, and furthering my knowledge and competence through a commitment to lifelong learning.

Association Executive Ethics

As association executives, there is a moral and ethical imperative to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in veterinary associations and the veterinary profession. It’s more than hiring one or two BIPOC or promising not to disrespect people who are different. It’s about building DEI into every aspect of associations, collective missions, values, and strategy. The membership of each VMA as well as the whole of the profession looks to association executives to lead with integrity. Indeed, a primary goal built into every association is to transform society for the better. Professional ethical standards describe the conduct that individuals strive to uphold and association executives follow the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Core Ethical Standards:

  1. Respect and uphold public laws that govern one’s work;
  2. Be honest in conducting the member’s business;
  3. Respect the confidentiality of information gained through one’s work;
  4. Act fairly;
  5. Foster an ethical culture through one’s work; and
  6. Take responsibility for one’s conduct.

In ASAE’s Core Ethical Standards Addendum, fostering an ethical culture through one’s work includes:

  • Employing practices that exemplify “Social Responsibility” as it pertains to both the human and environmental conditions;
  • Respecting diversity and fostering inclusion in all aspects of my work; and
  • Informing myself about the norms and customs of others and avoiding engaging in behaviors they might consider disrespectful.

There it is. DEI is included within an association executive’s ethical standards.

1.9: Conclusion

VMA executives and volunteer leaders are the stewards of this great profession and are critical to shaping its future. VMAE is asking for the sincere commitment to end discrimination and to build more diverse, inclusive, and equitable organizations and veterinary profession.

It’s important to acknowledge one might feel trepidation when thinking about DEI. It’s not uncommon to worry about saying the wrong thing or offending someone and it’s understandable to have a fear of being seen as a bad person or being part of the problem. But fear can lead to inaction; DEI can simply no longer be ignored. Not the data, not the healthcare outcomes, nor the successes of so many other businesses and organizations who employ DEI principles. And certainly not the increased wellbeing that comes from making things better for everyone.

Most of all, the people who have been discriminated against and marginalized are asking to be heard. Not taking this journey can bring further hurt when they’ve already suffered long enough.

Embarking on DEI work is meaningful and brings untold benefits personally, professionally, and organizationally. Join VMAE in this Journey and move individuals, veterinary medical associations, and the veterinary profession forward.

“Everybody has to speak up and take action, or else nothing will change.”

Dr. Christina Tran, president, Multicultural VMA