Purdue 2017: Embracing Diversity in Veterinary Medicine

September 27, 2017
Nicola M. Parry, BVSc, MRCVS, MSc, DACVP, ELS

Diversity in veterinary medicine extends well beyond gender, ethnicity and race and sexual orientation — and often impedes professional collaboration and clinical outcomes.

In 2009, women outnumbered men in veterinary medicine for the first time, and by 2010, women filled 78 percent of veterinary school seats, according to Jenifer Chatfield, DVM, DACZM, staff veterinarian at 4J Conservation Center in Dade City, Florida. In 2013, she said, more than 90 percent of veterinarians were white.

“But does this mean we have no diversity in veterinary medicine?” Dr. Chatfield asked the audience in the keynote lecture at the 2017 Purdue Veterinary Conference in West Lafayette, Indiana.

In tackling this question, Dr. Chatfield explained how other dimensions of diversity affect communication and engagement between veterinarians, and often impede professional collaboration and thus clinical outcomes.

“One of the most difficult things we can do as veterinarians is talk to our colleagues,” she said, “and I don’t know why that is.”

Dr. Chatfield described how veterinarians’ different clinical experiences and medical approaches provide diversity in the profession. Discussing what these dimensions of diversity look like among veterinarians, she stressed how clinical decision making can differ not only generationally and regionally, but also based on where veterinarians were trained and which clinicians taught them.

Dr. Chatfield highlighted how she and her twin brother attended the same veterinary school at the same time, shared a house together, and were taught by the same clinicians — yet emerged with some very different clinical perspectives and approaches.

These diverse experiences and perspectives can influence veterinarians’ preferred choices of dewormer or first-line empirical antibiotic, she noted, and whether they favor medical versus surgical approaches to certain cases.

Although Dr. Chatfield acknowledged that veterinarians tend to judge each other based on their treatment choices, she emphasized that they should instead always look to communicate with those who have different opinions.

However, “inviting this sort of conversation in our profession is something we haven’t done a good job of,” she admitted.

Veterinary medicine is an incredibly complex profession, and veterinarians need to leverage other clinicians’ experiences, she said, instead of simply having knee-jerk reactions based on personal experiences. This will allow veterinarians to better collaborate to produce productive results in the clinic.

“We have diversity available to us in the form of our colleagues,” she said, “but we often don’t harness this” effectively. Instead, differences in clinical opinion among veterinarians often serve as divisions, said Dr. Chatfield. This leads to conversations that may not be productive and often shut down.

She thus stressed the need for veterinarians not only to improve their understanding of diversity in the profession, but to embrace it.

“It’s a hard habit to break if we only talk to people with our own point of view — and it’s challenging,” said Dr. Chatfield. “But we need to start working on that, because in the end we’re all here on the same team to provide the best care."

Dr. Parry graduated from the University of Liverpool, England, in 1997, and is a board-certified veterinary pathologist. After 13 years working in academia, she founded Midwest Veterinary Pathology, LLC, where she now works as a private consultant. She is passionate about veterinary education and serves on the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association’s Continuing Education Committee. She regularly writes continuing education articles for veterinary organizations and journals, and has also served on the American College of Veterinary Pathologists’ Examination Committee and Education Committee.