Enhancing our commitment to veterinary wellbeing, diversity and inclusion

President’s Column: Dr. Mike Topper

Topper-MichaelI’m excited that Jen Brandt, PhD, recently joined the AVMA staff as our first director of member wellness and diversity initiatives. Dr. Brandt comes to us from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and is internationally renowned in the field of veterinary wellbeing. She recognizes the influence of moral stress on the wellbeing of veterinary students and professionals, and the importance of an organization’s ability to support a diverse workforce.

Her commitment to and compassion for others is rooted in an experience she recently shared with me. I’d like to share her story with you.

“One of the early lessons that influenced my approach to integrating wellbeing and diversity—although we didn’t use those terms then—was my work with patients with AIDS. In the 1980s, patients with AIDS were put in isolation rooms; health-care staff was instructed to wear full protective equipment. Touching the patient, particularly without gloves, was to be avoided, and fear of any patient contact was widespread. The patients—most frequently gay men who were dying in unprecedented numbers—often spent their last days in our hospital, afraid and alone, having been rejected years earlier by their family members.

“On my first day in the unit, my mentor, Mike, looked at me and said, ‘THIS is how we show up,’ then walked into a patient’s room without donning personal protective equipment. When the patient offered up his hand, Mike immediately held it. Seeing the look on the patient’s face, I knew immediately that our most potent ‘medicine’ was connection. That moment profoundly changed me. It sparked a lifelong mission to better understand the needs and perspectives of under-represented communities, to acknowledge the impact of systemic oppression and discrimination, to recognize that a lack of resources and bias influences access to healthcare, to challenge what I thought I knew and believed, and get curious about what others know and believe, and to always remember the sheer power of showing up.”

Given the AVMA’s commitments to wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion, we are fortunate to add a person with Dr. Brandt’s insight and experience to our staff and volunteer team. “Wellbeing” and “diversity and inclusion” are integrated concepts and intersect on about every level—individual, organizational, and societal. Recognizing and appreciating diversity and inclusion is a critical component of fostering wellbeing.

"Wellbeing" and "diversity and inclusion" are integrated concepts and intersect on about every level--individual, organizational, and societal.Dr. Brandt’s efforts will build on an established foundation of existing AVMA wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion programs and initiatives. Our wellbeing page (avma.org/wellbeing) offers resources on topics such as emotional and physical wellness, cyberbullying, and suicide prevention training. The AVMA Wheel of Well-Being has been very well received—both at home and internationally—since its launch last summer. And AVMA staff members work with volunteer entities and others whose efforts are related to building cultural competency in the veterinary profession.

All of this work is focused on helping us enhance our members’ wellbeing and advancing our commitment to ensuring diversity and inclusion in the profession. Adding a staff member like Dr. Brandt to lead these efforts provides the consistency and resources necessary to make a difference in people’s lives.

7 thoughts on “Enhancing our commitment to veterinary wellbeing, diversity and inclusion

  1. Whoever is the most qualified candidate should get in – I don’t care what the color of his/her skin is or about what sex person anyone sleeps with – it should not matter. For the AVMA and other organizations to make such a big deal of these things only makes people aggravated and more divided, the very thing they are trying to prevent. Forcing “diversity” down people’s throats does not work.
    As far as the “wellness” issue goes, I am all for supporting that. Too many veterinarians are committing suicide and that has to be addressed.

    • I couldn’t agree more with Dr.Zollo! I never have and still don’t get why ‘diversity’ has become such an accepted concept. This stems from seeing how my father, 50 YEARS AGO, had to turn down well-qualified applicants at his job and hire unqualified applicants in order to meet diversity ‘quotas’. This country was founded on the backs of those who worked hard to get ahead, and were promoted on the basis of individual merit, not skin color, nationality or sexual persuasion. How ridiculous to think that “diversity’, not merit, will improve our profession. In this day and age it has become apparent that anyone can succeed if they apply themselves IN SPITE of color, race, etc.

  2. As long as inclusion and diversity isn’t compromising the standards that are required to get into veterinary school as it is in the medical schools today, that is fine, but when more qualified students are being passed over to “diversify”, I have a problem with it.

  3. More bureaucratic gobbledy-gook. “Diversity” and “inclusion” only serve to divide people into factions. Just treat veterinarians as veterinarians, not black-veterinarians, white veterinarians, etc. Diversity normally means ‘we have too many white people.’ I don’t see the NBA establishing a diversity program when 80-90% of the players come from a group that represents 11-12% of the population.

    • Thank you for writing, Dr. Robinson. In its final report titled Unity through Diversity, which was published in 2007, the AVMA Task Force on Diversity defined diversity as “differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, health, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, religion, stature, education level, job level and function, personality traits and other human differences. Diversity also includes differences in language, culture, dialect, immigrant status, national origin, geography, and underserved areas of practice.” The Task Force further defined what diversity is not: “Diversity does not mean quotas, or the lowering of qualifications and standards. Diversity is not about righting past wrongs, and does not focus only on race and gender.”

      Although inclusion was not defined by the AVMA Task Force on Diversity, being inclusive is one of the AVMA’s core values; that is, the AVMA is inclusive in that we represent and support a diverse community of veterinarians with unique perspectives. Inclusion simply means “the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.” By being an inclusive Association, then, the AVMA strives to represent and support its diverse community of veterinarians so that they can in turn do their best to support the diverse communities in which they work.

      The AVMA Board of Directors most recently approved an update to the AVMA Policy on Diversity and Inclusion on April 7, 2017. The definition of diversity outlined by the Task Force a decade ago and the AVMA’s core value of inclusivity are woven throughout that updated policy.

      Again, thank you, Dr. Robinson, for your comment.