Q&A with a keynote: Niccole Bruno, DVM

Atlantic City

Let’s talk about Bruno, the 2022 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference’s second day keynote speaker, including what inspired her address and the importance of BLEND

The hit Disney movie Encanto has taken households by storm, leading Niccole Bruno, DVM, and her children to watch it repeatedly. The more she watched and listened to the music—including the popular song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”—the more she saw the connection between this animated movie and the highs and lows of the veterinary profession. This apparent connection led Bruno, the veterinarian, to use Encanto to talk about her experiences at this year’s Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference (ACVC) for her keynote address.

In this interview with dvm360®, Bruno goes more in-depth about her journey in veterinary medicine and how Encanto and BLEND, a veterinary hospital certification program in diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI), help her create a safe space in veterinary medicine for everyone.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Niccole Bruno, DVM

Niccole Bruno, DVM

I have been practicing small animal medicine for 16 years. I graduated from Cornell University in 2006. Before that, I'm from Queens, New York, and I am biracial; my father is Colombian, and my mother is Black. Growing up in a diverse city, such as New York City, and then having diversity within my family, I embraced exposure to differences. I saw that in my classmates in school, growing up, and I was kind of part of my everyday life with just having a blend, for lack of better words of 2 beautiful cultures. When I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian, it was very apparent that I was not going to fit in, per say. I was usually the only person of color in the hospitals that I did my summer programs in or volunteer work, and I didn't always feel like I belonged.

What inspired your keynote address?

When I watched Encanto the first time, I don't think that I was even thinking about using it as keynote. I just got lost in the story, the music, and just having a good time with my kids. But the more I listened to the movie, listen to the soundtrack, and watch it—because children never just want to watch a movie one time—the more I started to see how it parallels some of the issues that we see in veterinary medicine.

The movie is based on a grandmother who lost her husband, had triplets and her triplets had received gifts when they turned 5-years-old. Those gifts help to protect them in the village. The different gifts that the family received, and ultimately the grandchildren receive, are [similar to] gifts that veterinary professionals have, and sometimes gifts become burdens. We don't have a profession that requires us to prioritize our mental wellbeing and embrace cultural differences. So, when we don't allow people to show us who they are, as they are, and express who they want to be in this profession, we cause them to burnout because their light is to be dimmed and weak. This sometimes caused them to leave an impression in our own profession that is dealing with veterinary shortages, and just overall mental health disease.

We must do better as a profession, as leaders, in recognizing our staff and building them up and honoring their gifts and differences so that they can be the best versions of themselves and ultimately help create and keep the profession that we all want it to be part of alive and thriving—where we all are thriving, not just the patients.

Why is BLEND important?

I always wanted to be in places where I felt like I belonged. For me, creating a program like BLEND is allowing hospitals to take that first step in creating an environment where people of all different backgrounds want to show up and belong in this workplace. Because I used to walk into practices and immediately based on how I felt, would determine whether I was going to stay, thrive there, get everything I needed or not. Because I mentor so many students, I know that they want, they still have those same feelings that I had 16 years ago, which means that we haven't done much to change that. When they walk into a hospital, people should feel like they are going to be received and connected with us so that we can do what's best for the patient. In veterinary school, they teach us a lot about the medicine, but the other stuff, the real heart of it, the people, the leadership…we ultimately have to learn on the fly, in addition to crafting our skill set in veterinary medicine, and it's hard. It's one of the reasons why we're seeing a lot of a burnout, and just mental health issues in our profession. We have to do better at changing the environments that are professionals are going into, and that's why it's important.

You mentioned you mentor veterinary students, what is the best advice you can give them?

I think that a lot of times with students, it's kind of a gift and a curse because the ones that come in and they're focused, they're like, ‘I must have all these requirements. I must get my experience hours. I must make sure I have good recommendation letters’…It's so much of like what [veterinary students] must do that sometimes they forget to enjoy those moments. I try to remind them: enjoy this time, learn from the cases, and you'll be surprised how much more you remember. I tried to tell them that not everybody's journey is the same and not to put so much pressure on themselves to click these boxes, and just trying to focus on the journey itself and the joy with it. I remember being in their shoes, but I never had somebody reminding me of those moments, and I hope to be able to provide that level of support for them, in addition to helping them get into veterinary school.

If you could lecture anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I love the beach. The beach is my happy place and…accessibility of being close to the beach is what I miss the most about living in Texas now. One of the trips that I am so grateful to have taken before COVID-19 was to Colombia with my Dad and my sister. I would want to be back on that beach in Colombia and giving a presentation just on anything related within this space.

Honestly, I think the thing that I've learned the most about doing this type of work, is that people just want to talk, and they want to feel like it's safe to talk. I think that the whole vibe of a beach would automatically just create this safe space for people and give people a chance to just talk.

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