Veterinary medicine is a highly respected and lucrative field, with a wide range of opportunities for those who are interested in working with animals. But opportunities appear to be slim to none for folks of color looking to break into the industry. Over the last decade, the significant underrepresentation of Black veterinarians has caused a large debate in the medical industry. Are soaring education costs and racial barriers to blame for the discrepancy? Let’s take a look at a few facts that may be responsible for the glaring issue.The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the veterinary field may explode as more people begin to own pets. Jobs for vets and vet technicians will grow 16 percent by 2029. But will those opportunities be available to Black veterinarians? Right now, the future seems quite bleak. According to BLS data in 2019, out of 104,000 veterinarians in the nation, nearly 90 percent are white, less than 2 percent are Hispanic and almost none are Black.
Lack of exposure
Dr. Will Draper, a Black veterinarian who runs his own practice in the Atlanta area, says lack of access and exposure to the field could be to blame. Young children of color, particularly those in low-income areas, do often get a chance to visit or see a veterinary clinic due to location barriers. During an interview with Time magazine in 2020, Draper said he didn’t live near a vet clinic or animal shelter growing up as a kid in Inglewood, California. His father wasn’t a big fan of pets either.
“I didn’t really have many pets growing up because my father didn’t like animals,” Draper told the magazine. As a child, he loved animals, but he never envisioned himself in the field until one day, his father took him to see the College of Veterinary Medicine at his alma mater, Tuskegee University. Over the years, the HBCU has primed the veterinary chops of more than 70 percent of the nation’s current Black vets, Time noted.
If it wasn’t for Draper’s exposure to Tuskegee, he may not have become one of the nation’s leading animal care practitioners. The lack of representation of Black veterinarians in the field can be discouraging for Black students who may not see themselves reflected in the profession. This can lead to a lack of interest in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine.
There is still more work to be done in order to diversify and create long-lasting change in the industry.
In 2013, the veterinary field was dubbed one of the whitest professions in America by The Atlantic.
Annie J. Daniel, the founder of the National Association for Black Veterinarians (NABV), has been working for years to increase the number of Black professionals in the animal healthcare space. Daniel started the nonprofit in 2016, but she says she’s only made a small dent with her youth outreach and educational initiatives.
Since forming NABV, the Black vet population has declined from 2.1 percent to below 1 percent. Daniel believes the drop is connected to systemic racism.
Access to Education
One of the primary reasons why there are so few Black veterinarians is the lack of access to quality education. Black students are more likely to attend underfunded and under-resourced schools, which can limit their opportunities to pursue careers in fields such as veterinary medicine. The cost of tuition for veterinary school has risen steadily over the years, and many students graduate with significant debt. This can be especially challenging for Black students who may face financial barriers.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2020, the mean educational debt for all U.S. veterinary college graduates, including those without debt, was $157,146. African American graduates had more debt than their white peers.
While the mean starting salary for students entering full-time employment was $90,722, veterinarians of color were still faced with the burden of paying off their expensive debt amid soaring inflation and the turbulent economic tides of the pandemic.
Addressing the Underrepresentation of Black Veterinarians
Increasing the number of Black veterinarians in the field will require a multifaceted approach. Veterinary schools should actively seek out and recruit Black students, as well as other underrepresented groups, to ensure that the student body reflects the diversity of the population.
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