Not quite so white: Georgia professor makes strides in veterinary diversity
This years Iverson Bell Award winner talks about reaching out to underrepresented students to spark interest in veterinary medicine.
Veterinary medicine has been called by one popular magazine “the whitest profession in America.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5 percent of veterinarians in 2014 were Hispanic, 3 percent were African American, and 1 percent defined themselves as Asian.
Dr. K. Paige CarmichaelK. Paige Carmichael, DVM, PhD, DACVP, a professor in the pathology department at the University of Georgia (UGA) College of Veterinary Medicine, is doing her part to change that. Winner of the 2015 Iverson Bell Award, which honors people who promote diversity in veterinary academia, Carmichael is broadly recognized as a national leader in diversity issues and in recruiting underrepresented students.
For one, she founded the Veterinary Career Aptitude and Mentoring Program (VetCAMP) at UGA, which lets underrepresented high school students explore the field before they start college. During the seven-day summer program, students learn about the requirements for admission to Georgia's veterinary school, preveterinary study options, research opportunities and the curriculum. They also observe and participate in services in the teaching hospital and the poultry research center and get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Georgia Aquarium. Carmichael also founded the Dog Doctors Youth Outreach Program, which allows elementary and middle school students to interact with Bernese mountain dogs as she explains about the variety of career paths in veterinary medicine.
During Carmichael's tenure as associate dean of academic affairs at Georgia, underrepresented minority students went from 4 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2014. Carmichael has worked with Lisa Greenhill, associate executive director for institutional research and diversity at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), on a study that assessed campus culture with respect to diversity at veterinary schools around the country. We asked Carmichael to share more about these programs and studies.
dvm360: What was your message during the Iverson Bell Awards presentation?
Carmichael: The message I wanted to get across was that a big part of diversifying our profession is understanding each other-the ways we are different and may therefore have differing perspectives on the same matter. Once we understand that we all differ in some way from each other-from color, intellect and life experiences, to bringing differing points of view to the table-we can go beyond just trying to achieve diversity to understanding our differences. Great things happen when people who understand each other get to work together.
dvm360: Can you tell us how VetCAMP came about? What is its mission?
Carmichael: The number of underrepresented minorities who applied to Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine was and still is relatively low. The reasons for this are complex, but suffice it to say that I thought we needed to build our own pipeline. I tried for several years to get funding for a program that would immerse 11th and 12th graders from Georgia and our contract states in a veterinary experience. We finally started it but had to charge for it. In a nutshell, 11th and 12th graders spend a week on Georgia's campus immersed in experiential learning about veterinary medicine. We've grown from 16 students in our first class in 2010 to more than 50 students last year.
dvm360: You also started the Dog Doctors Youth Outreach Program. Why?
Carmichael: Dog Doctors brings awareness to elementary school children and their parents about the wide range of opportunities available in veterinary medicine. The college's coordinator of diversity, Lakecia Pettway, a veterinary student and I take these big, cuddly, well-behaved, children-loving Bernese mountain dogs to elementary schools and talk to children about research in veterinary medicine (which is how I came to have the first Bernese dog I ever owned). We allow the children to listen to the dogs' heartbeats, and we show the comparative anatomy of different species of animals, including people. We also give the children an activity book, with a last page that asks them to reflect on what they learned, and we have them return the books to us within a week. We use the children's feedback to help us improve, fine-tune and include additional aspects to the program.
dvm360: If other veterinary educators wanted to start similar outreach programs, what advice would you offer?
Carmichael: I actually just finished doing that with a faculty member at another school. What works in one place may not work in others, but in general I recommend, first, to find veterinary students who can passionately talk about how great their profession is. Second, find a source of funding. The Dog Doctors was first funded through a grant from UGA's Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach. When that grant ran out, the college picked up funding. And third, remember you're talking to children-usually not our area of expertise. I had someone from early childhood development help me develop the program.
dvm360: Can you tell us about the study you did with the AAVMC assessing campus culture and diversity at veterinary schools?
Carmichael: In general, our students feel very comfortable in their campus climate. There are, however, indications that some marginalized populations, like students of color and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) students, may feel a chillier climate in general.
dvm360: What message about the study's results do you hope will resonate with veterinary school administrators?
Carmichael: I hope they realize that more than lip service needs to be in place when it comes to diversifying our profession, and as veterinary educators, we hold the gateway to that path.
dvm360: During your tenure as associate dean, how were you able to more than double the percentage of underrepresented minority students?
Carmichael: Most of this was due to the aforementioned programs, including one that was already in place, Vet School for a Day. We also increased recruitment trips to areas where minority students were working on undergraduate degrees. Credit must also be given to our great faculty, especially those on the admissions committee, and an awesome coordinator of diversity and international affairs, Lakecia Pettway.
dvm360: Why are diversity and inclusiveness imperatives to pursue in both veterinary education and in the veterinary profession?
Carmichael: As our population diversifies, it becomes increasingly important that we graduate professionals who are well-grounded in a culture of inclusivity. This is in order to best serve the owners of the pets we take care of, the other researchers in the laboratories we work in, the agribusiness world as we strive to keep our food supply safe, and the other specialists we will be working with in large multispecialty practices.
Donna Loyle, MS, is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness and veterinary topics. She is the former primary editor of the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.