CVM alums form organizations for cultural change

It is no secret that veterinary medicine is lacking diversity. Once dubbed the “whitest profession” in the United States by The Atlantic, veterinary medicine is 90% white (down from 96.5% in 2013 when the article was written) and 71% female. And while this is a step toward a more inclusive future for veterinary medicine, it is only just a step—and a comparatively small one at that.

Veterinary colleges have made strides to diversify their student populations and provide a more inclusive culture. They have also begun outreach programs to reach younger children and show them that veterinary medicine is a viable option for anyone. To support the cause, two recent alumnae of the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine have started new organizations with a common mission of making veterinary medicine a field that is available to everyone—all while practicing medicine full time.

Plans Become Action

Drs. Valerie Marcano and Serena Nayee graduated in 2020. Both having been involved with diversity and inclusion programs while studying, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Marcano, along with her husband Dr. Seth Andrews, founded Pawsibilities: a web and app-based platform devoted to connecting individuals from underrepresented backgrounds with mentors in the industry. Nayee founded Chapter VIII: Veterinary Inclusion and Intersectionality Initiative. While still in its early days, Nayee designed this movement to promote diversity in veterinary medicine with a special focus on intersectionality. Intersectionality describes the overlap and interaction of a person’s various social and political identities and how they create privilege and discrimination. By discussing and drawing attention to this complex idea, Nayee hopes to create a culture of understanding and promote better physical and mental health in veterinary medicine.

Pawsibilities, officially a 501(c)(3) non-profit as of September of this year, began as an idea that took proper form at the UGA Animal Health Hackathon in 2018 but was put on hold while Marcano and Andrews finished their degrees. The most basic tenet of Pawsibilities is community through mentorship.

Marcano credits much of her success to the community she built for herself throughout her career—a network of mentors who helped her along the way. “89% of people who are mentored go on to become mentors,” explains Marcano. “You have to take a few steps forward and pull someone up behind you. It’s a chance to build your own village.”

The platform allows users to connect with mentors within the community for guidance and encouragement—and it allows everyone to display their abilities. “There is always more to learn, but everyone always has something to offer others,” says Andrews. To ensure each member has a common toolset, every new member must attend a course on mentoring, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“One of my passions is bringing knowledge about this profession to everybody,” explains Marcano, “especially those who might have been discouraged from pursuing a career in veterinary medicine.” This deterrence can originate from either an individual’s personal background, race, physical ability, or simply from fear of the mental toll veterinary practice can take on them.

“We want to promote diversity of people and the diversity of veterinary practice,” states Andrews. The platform is open to veterinarians, veterinary technicians, students, and generally anyone 18 years or older who is interested in learning more about veterinary medicine and its various forms—from general small animal practitioners and academics to government researchers. Through partnerships with companies and organizations like Zoetis, DVM360, and PrideVMC, the couple hopes to grow the platform and create a place where anyone can belong, all while promoting emotional wellbeing, financial literacy, and general learning.

Community Creates Culture

Pawsibilities shares this dream with Chapter VIII, and where Pawsiblities has created a literal community, Chapter VIII hopes to foster its culture of acceptance, representation, and inclusion until it becomes the norm.

Nayee has an interest in public health and policy, specifically regarding the availability and accessibility of veterinary care and education. Working in a veterinary urgent care practice, she sees firsthand how access to care can change a community. And by creating community, you create a culture of acceptance and inclusion. Nayee reiterates, “Diversity exists in representation, and inclusivity cultivates its growth and maintenance.”

“When you discuss intersectionality, you talk about individual experiences. This means you better understand the experiences of others and find similarities with yourself,” says Nayee. Discussions like this can be beneficial to processing your own experiences and open your eyes to the experiences of others. “I also want to enhance accessibility to veterinary medicine education through scholarships and opportunities to be involved for all people. Because there is no ‘public’ health unless everyone is involved and has a voice.”

Chapter VIII’s goals and causes shift as necessary to benefit those most in need, but its mission is consistent: to develop a culture of understanding, inclusion, and diversity through the understanding of intersectionality. In this way, Chapter VIII and Pawsibilities share common ground. So much so, in fact, that Nayee serves on the advisory board for Pawsibilities. The two groups also hope to grow together in partnership.

How You Can Help

As they are still young, Chapter VIII and Pawsibilities are seeking partnerships and opportunities with organizations who share their goals.

Chapter VIII is currently holding a fundraiser offering custom stickers for veterinarians (or others) to share their preferred pronouns. More information can be found on the Chapter VIII Facebook group and Instagram. Nayee also posts content under her own name on YouTube.

The best source of information on Pawsibilities is their website. They are active on social media as well, and their profiles can be found on their website. Pawsibilities is actively seeking partnerships for both networking and resources.

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