Brandy Duhon, DVM, shared her journey of shattering glass ceilings and paving the way for others with a disability to achieve their dreams
When Brandy Duhon, DVM, director of campus relations at Heartland Veterinary Partners, based in Chicago, Illinois, was 13 years old, she began to feel sick one day with what she described as flu-like symptoms. As the day went on, she began to get sicker and noticed bruises on her right wrist and back, so her family decided they needed to take her to the hospital. There, she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, which would then cause her to have a double amputation of her hands and a part of her foot.
During her keynote address, "Beyond Able: Breaking Barriers of Disabilities & Accessibility in Veterinary Medicine," on the first day of the Fetch Coastal conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey,1 Duhon shared an inside look into her journey becoming a veterinarian, and discussed how much more we need to go in veterinary medicine to make it inclusive for those with disabilities.
As time moved on and Duhon began understanding how to maneuver through life, she decided she wanted to be a veterinarian. At first, she applied to veterinary school 3 times and was rejected all 3 times. However, on her 4th try, she was accepted into the Louisiana State University (LSU) College of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge.
“Obviously I understand why [I was rejected] right? So what next was like, 'Sure, let her come in and we're going to see what you can, or cannot do.' They knew I could do class work, but they didn't know if I could do the clinics. And I'll be 100% honest, I didn't know if I could either,” Duhon shared with attendees.
“I knew that it was by going hard…When all my classmates are out partying at LSU every night. [And while] they were out drinking, I was at home trying to figure out how the heck was I going to do sutures with my elbows [and] what if I'm going to suffer from carpal tunnel of the elbow. I was trying to figure that out, and that's what I did,” she continued.
Duhon shared that by the time she got to clinics, there was some doubt about her abilities from a surgery professor. He was not sure she was going to be able to perform surgery, but she told attendees that before she switched to her current job, she spent her last 3 years at LSU running his surgery lab.
Throughout her time as a veterinary student, her fellow classmates were a support system that she still cherishes. She told attendees they were at first a little jealous that she was always asked to demonstrate in class because teachers were curious about how she could do certain tasks. As they went on through veterinary school, they all became extremely close. She shared memories of times when they would help or encourage her if she needed it, including a time when she was told she could not do a procedure because of her disability, so the class all got together to help her succeed. Her closeness with her classmates was also a catalyst for them to see people with disabilities in their clinic like they saw Duhon and give them a chance.
“I think that I [was a benefit] for my class as well, because I have a lot of classmates that are now in veterinary clinics, and they do not hesitate, not one bit, to hire someone with a disability. Why? Because throughout school, I showed them how I did it, how I didn't give up, how I tried to do things,” said Duhon.
“They want to give other people that same opportunity. But I will tell you as a person with a disability, it is very important to know why. Because if I would have went out there and said I want to do all of this and I couldn't perform, then that would not have worked out well for those with disabilities in veterinary medicine,” she concluded.
What happened to Duhon when she was a child never changed who she was as a person. She expressed that she only cares about getting the pets the best care possible. For Duhon, that process just looks a little different. But she became the veterinarian she is today because she was given a chance to show what she can do.
For those with a disability who want to pursue veterinary medicine, Duhon had this to say: “Make sure [that] as a person with a disability you don't use your disability as a crutch. It doesn't help anyone, so [that is] definitely something I advocate,” she told attendees.
Duhon said that although advancements in making the veterinary space more inclusive for those with disabilities have been made, there is still more that needs to be done. For those who want to make sure their clinics are inclusive to all, Duhon told attendees to imagine they are in a wheelchair in the clinic. Is the countertop too high? Do the bathrooms have enough room? By taking the extra steps to make your clinic accessible, a better environment for clients and any possible future staff is created.
B Duhon. Beyond Able: Breaking Barriers of Disabilities & Accessibility in Veterinary Medicine. Presented at: Fetch dvm360 conference; October 9-11 2023; Atlantic City, New Jersey.