By Dr. Pierre B. Bland
Throughout my career I have always been a member of the local, state, and national veterinary associations. Not only is it a practical and relatively inexpensive way to acquire the needed continuing education requirement to maintain licensure, it also is an excellent professional networking opportunity. The meetings are generally good, the educational opportunities excellent but at least for me, something was always missing. Now I have quantification of what was missing.
The staff at the meetings are always courteous and greet me with a welcoming “Dr. Bland! How are you this evening!” as they provide my name tag and direct me towards the sign in sheet. I mingle with colleagues who are also regular attendees and often meet several new veterinarians during the course of the evening. I rarely have to introduce myself. As if I were at the bar Cheers, everyone knows my name and not because I am wearing a name tag. They often come up and say, “You’re Dr. Bland. Nice to finally meet you.” This is not due to having one of those super familiar faces and personalities everyone seems to know (I am told I actually do.) or my veterinary reputation proceeds me. Probably both are a component of my recognition, but it is actually much simpler. At every local or state meeting, I am the only if not one of a very few, people of color in attendance. The numbers of veterinarians of color at national meetings are a bit more encouraging, but still pretty low.
The Atlantic recently published an article listing the whitest professions in America. My profession topped the list. 97.5% of veterinarians in this country are white. Only 2.5% of veterinarians are people of color. I always suspected the percentage of vets like me was at best moderate, but I found the actual percentage surprisingly low. Finding out I am a member of the whitest profession in America has been a real eye opener. It puts many of my experience over the last 30 years in a very different perspective.
At least once weekly I meet someone, black and white, who feel compelled to share they have never met an African- American veterinarian. I often meet black and white clients who beam with joy and pride when I unexpectedly walk into the exam room. They make it a point to tell me they have proudly shared the experience of meeting me with friends and family. I am often frustrated and bewildered when I see photographs of the contributors to the journals I read or speakers at the meetings I attend don’t reflect my personal professional reality, unless I am reading a publication or attending a meeting from or in the obviously rarified source of Tuskegee University. I now realize in most cases, these comments and experiences result from a simple lack of exposure, just a matter of the numbers.
Although I know many accomplished African-American veterinarians as a Tuskegee alumni, I have rarely encounter many African-American colleagues in my professional work experiences. In fact I know of only 3 other veterinarians of color here in South Florida, one being a classmate of mine. Our interactions are pretty limited and more often than not through social media. We are all very busy. I rarely see them at the local meeting and am frequently asked if I know them by the majority veterinarians. I truly wish that situation was different.
I have written about how I thought I was not unique as a veterinarian of color, but I now stand corrected. Being designated as 2.5% of a profession is sobering, especially if I allow myself the luxury to ruminate on the fact. I am a representative for vets like me every moment of my professional and personal life. Like it or not, being unique in this way is my burden and my privilege, one which I readily accept. If a client or fellow professional feels the need to judge my fellow 2.5%ers by my actions, I will provide a positive and accurate basis for that judgement. There is no try. Only do or do not.
Guess I kind of know what it is like to be an endangered species.
Dr. Pierre B. Bland is a small animal practitioner who offers office and house call appointments to his clients. His offices are located at 3225 N. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and can be reached at 954 673-8579.