Very few veterinarians are Black. These students are trying to change that
Nationally, only about 3 percent of all veterinarians are Black, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg are working to change those statistics.
Kia Williams is a second year veterinary student, studying the care of cows, goats, and other farm animals. “Vet med is a predominantly white, career field, but when you tap into food animal, you get predominantly white, older men,” said Williams.
Being a veterinarian, and a vet student, is stressful, said Williams. You put your heart and emotions into caring for animals, and interacting with their owners. Over time, it takes a toll on your mental health.
“You really have to find that work-life balance,” Williams said. “And I will admit, it is extremely hard. Trying to take care of yourself, trying to stay physically fit.”
Added to that is the stress of sometimes feeling out of place in a community like Blacksburg, where just five percent of people are Black. Sometimes, Williams said, she feels awkward walking into stores, where she is often the only Black person shopping.
“I was kind of hesitant about taking this route because of me being a female, me being a Black female and not being accepted,” Williams said. “But I had to get over that because if I’m willing to make a difference in this world, I’m gonna have to go through things that I might not want to go through.”
Williams recently helped launch a local chapter of the National Association of Black Veterinarians (SNABV) at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. They’re hosting an event on March 21 at Blacksburg Middle School, called “Vet For a Day.”
Williams said she hopes students will see that you can be a vet, no matter the color of your skin.
Another vet student in Blacksburg, Taylor Emery, who’s also Black, said encouraging young people is what led them to create the chapter. She grew up in Tampa, Florida, and said she loved animals as a child.
“I remember being a little kid and I never saw any one Black person working in a veterinarian clinic,” Emery said. “You might have that subconscious feeling of like, oh yeah, Black people just don’t do that. So like maybe I should do something else because I don’t see anybody like me doing that.”
Emery pursued a career in basketball, and then retired to study veterinarian medicine.
“I think it’s really big that we sit here and we show Black representation in vet med and let these kids know that, regardless of the color of your skin, you can do it. And we’re doing it. And yeah, you might have to break some barriers, just like we do, but you can do it.”
This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.