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Talking about Bruno
During her keynote address at the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, Niccole Bruno, DVM, founder of BLEND, explained how the Disney movie, Encanto, parallels veterinary medicine
Like many others within the veterinary industry, Niccole Bruno, DVM, has had first-hand experience with imposter syndrome, compassion fatigue, and burnout to the point where she lost the motivation to mentor and felt a sense of disconnection to a profession she once dearly loved. Nevertheless, these challenges birthed a new passion for Bruno, to positively influence and ultimately change the culture of veterinary medicine and beyond! When Disney’s animated film “Encanto” debuted in 2021, Bruno noticed similarities between the plot and the life of veterinary professionals, as she and her children watched the film they fell in love with over and over again.
During her keynote address at the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference (ACVC), Bruno explained her veterinary journey to attendees, and how the movie “Encanto” not only paralleled the wonderful gifts of veterinary professionals but also encourages them to set boundaries and put themselves and their needs first.
Bruno's veterinary medicine journey
At 12 years old, Bruno announced to her family that she would be a veterinarian when she grew up. Bruno told attendees that once she made this announcement, there was no turning back, especially when recognizing she would now mentor and pave the way for her younger sister, who joined in on the journey of veterinary medicine, soon after Bruno’s announcement.
After shadowing veterinarians, Bruno began to feel discouraged because no one she was shadowing looked like she did. To fight against this discouragement, Bruno’s mother found someone to talk to Bruno who showed her the representation she was lacking in her shadowing experience is out there.
“When I decided to enter Vet Med, I didn't see myself in the doctors [or] in the staff that I did my shadowing experiences in, and I felt very disengaged. My mom drove me up one day to Yonkers, New York when I was 13 and I met 2 black men who were veterinarians from [Tuskegee University]. I tell you that I held on to that because they just welcomed me and to the point where when it was time to apply to college, my mom strongly encouraged me to go to Tuskegee University,” Bruno explained.
Although Bruno disclosed she was not too excited about being a New York native in Alabama, inspired by her veterinary mentors, she made the leap to Tuskegee University for her undergraduate years. It was at Tuskegee University where she not only achieved her magna cum laude Bachelor of Animal Science degree, but thrived amongst the educational support and professional representation she so deeply desired. Bruno’s love for veterinary medicine flourished at Tuskegee University and propelled her to She then followed her roots back to New York at Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Bruno, where she was part of the most diverse class in Cornell’s Veterinary School history and, along with her colleagues, developed the first VOICE chapter (formally named Veterinary Students as One in Color and Ethnicity).
Throughout her school experience, Bruno was met with a lot of representation and diversity with her classmates. Once she began working, she released this was not the case everywhere she went. This caused her to develop imposter syndrome and eventually lead to her burning out early in her career. As she was struggling, Bruno decided to become proactive and found BLEND, a veterinary hospital certification program in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). In tangent to this launch and creation, Bruno watched Encanto for the first time, inspiring her and helping the release she needed to quit her job and focus on BLEND full time.
The Encanto of veterinary medicine
Encanto tells the story of the Madrigals, a Colombian family that receives gifts from a magic candle to help sustain their village. Most characters receive gifts such as strength, controlling the weather, and perfection to keep the village afloat. For Bruno, the gifts these characters receive are truly gifts, but they came with pressure to help the village, much like the pressures of being a veterinary professional. Bruno drew that link between veterinary medicine and that character beginning right from veterinary school within one character specifically.
“I think about us in vet medicine, how we have just been trained to be perfect from the jump. In order to get into vet school, we've got to have the best grades, the best experiences, the best recommendation letters, and all of the best environments. I mean, it's a lot. Then we go to vet school,” expressed Bruno.
“Then, you get recommendation letters on that track and you're just on this pathway. You don't really have time to just take a breath sometimes and relish in the mistakes. And then when you get out into clinics, it's like crazy, there is no room for error because then somebody is on you or you're on social media being talked about. We live this life for perfection, and it can eat at us,” said Bruno.
By the end of the movie, the Madrigal family journeyed from a closed mindset and opened their minds to accepting one another for who they truly were, not just for what they brought to the table. The characters also learned that despite their gifts, it was okay to say “no” and set boundaries in order to prioritize their needs over others.
From Bruno’s address, veterinary professionals go through the same struggles as these characters, and being a veterinary professional is a gift that should not be taken advantage of, and it is okay to step back and ask for help. The movie also provides an example to veterinary professionals that it is okay to put yourself first and make sure that you are okay before you can help take care of others.
At the end of her keynote address, Bruno paused, put on her Encanto-styled glasses, and dedicated the keynote to her grandmother who passed away during the pandemic, but inspired her every day. To close out her address, Bruno offered this advice to listeners:
“Lean closer, recognize your values, your gifts, and use them to create your own story. That's what I had to ultimately do. Understand that DEIB wellness leadership, it's really not easy work. It takes commitment. It takes intentionality and it can be done, but it won't happen overnight. That is the struggle that I have. I want [it] to overnight! Navigate the unknown. It builds your character. Then, own up to when you make mistakes because, in this work, you're going to make mistakes and probably say something today that was a mistake. There's always an opportunity for growth. So [simply], own up to your mistake,” she concluded.
Bruno, N. We DO talk about Bruno. Presented at Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference; Atlantic City, New Jersey. October 10-12, 2022.