"Being a Black veterinarian, there is a constant challenge of always having to prove yourself," the author writes.
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a veterinarian. My love for animals began at age 5, when my parents gave me and my sisters a miniature poodle that we named Silver. I did my very best to go to every vet visit with Silver because I adored him, and I was curious to see what veterinarians do for animals.
But I noticed something: I never once saw a veterinarian that looked like me at Silver’s veterinary clinic, or any other veterinary clinics or veterinary emergency hospitals.
Each time after these visits, I started to question: “Why have I not seen any Black veterinarians? Why do none of the doctors look like me?” It made me realize that my dream would likely be harder to achieve or possibly not achievable at all, just because I am Black.
Veterinary medicine is one of the least diverse occupations in America. As of 2023, Black veterinarians make up about 2% of the veterinary profession. Minorities may not have exposure to opportunities in veterinary medicine; U.S. colleges and universities of veterinary medicine are not actively seeking minorities, and the lack of minorities in this field also minimizes the opportunities for mentorship for this demographic.
It was not until I was accepted into Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine that I saw and met my first Black veterinarian. My experience at Tuskegee was life-changing. Being around successful Black veterinarians was truly inspiring and motivational. While at Tuskegee, I was no longer a minority. I was part of a diverse community of colleagues who all shared the same goal — to become great veterinarians.
As I approached my final year, it was time to start preparing for externships. For my externships, I visited other veterinary schools and met students from other universities. At two of the three universities I visited, I was the only Black extern. I also had a few externships at small animal hospitals, and again, I was the only minority.
I have had clients who did not want me to see their animals because I am Black. I have also been told by a client that I should be cautious, because her dog may not like me because I am dark-skinned.
I don’t want to use the word discouraging to describe how I felt about the lack of diversity during my externships, but I was disappointed. When I graduated, unfortunately, my glorious time at Tuskegee quickly faded into a distant memory. I was reintroduced to the reality of being a minority, but this time, I was a doctor.
From my personal experience as a Black veterinarian, I have encountered instances in which clients have judged me based on my skin color. I have had clients who did not want me to see their animals because I am Black. I have also been told by a client that I should be cautious, because her dog may not like me because I am dark-skinned.
The first time I was judged for my skin color, I was shocked and very hurt because I had passed my boards and am very knowledgeable, just like every other practicing veterinarian. But that did not matter; all the clients knew was the color of my skin, and they immediately felt I was not good enough. I have since learned not to let someone’s judgment of me affect my work because I know my value and capability.
There have also been instances in which I havebeen questioned about treatments and diagnostics by both clients and supporting staff. I have reached the point in my career that when incidents like these occur, I am not surprised, but when they do occur, I question, “Would I have these experiences if I wasn’t Black?” Being a Black veterinarian, there is a constant challenge of always having to prove yourself.
Because we are so rare in this profession, when I put on my white coat as a Black veterinarian, I not only represent myself, but an entire demographic. Proving yourself comes with the territory.
Although there have been some negative experiences, there have been plenty of positive, uplifting moments. For example, an elderly Black client became emotional when she first met me, telling me she had never seen a Black veterinarian before, and she thanked me for being in my position.
I had a Black mom ask me if she could bring her son and daughter to meet me so she could show her children that Black veterinarians do exist. I have also had Black elementary and secondary education teachers ask me if I can speak at their career day to inspire the next generation.
The author poses with a patient.
Diversity and inclusion are not just words. As practices, they are ways to bridge the gap of unfamiliarity and give qualified individuals opportunities to thrive in positions that previously have not been accessible to them.
Since its founding, Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, the only veterinary school at a historically Black college or university, has educated over 70% of America’s Black veterinarians. But Tuskegee should not be the only veterinary school sending Black doctors into the world of animal care.
As a profession, we must acknowledge the lack of diversity and truly be open to becoming more inclusive. A huge step in the right direction will be universities opening their doors to accept more minority students and giving them the educational tools and support (whether academic or mental) they need to succeed and thrive on their educational journey.
I love being a veterinarian. The positive impact I have not only on my patients but also on my clients is truly rewarding. I am inspired to continue to do what I do because of my love for animals, but I understand that I am a rarity in this field, and this also keeps me motivated.
As a Black veterinarian, I want young boys and girls who look like me to be able to pursue their dreams without having to question if it’s possible, like I once did. I remain hopeful that diversity and inclusion in this profession will grow, and the future of veterinary medicine will include a diverse group of practitioners who have come together for one common goal: to treat animals and protect their well-being.