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Equity, Diversity and Inclusion within the Veterinary Profession

Dr. Jami Frederick, ABVMA Member of Council, Edmonton Region, EDI Advisory Committee Chair

JUNE IS PRIDE MONTH, AND SO IT IS A GOOD TIME TO think about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the workplace. Consider the patients we see on a daily basis. Many of us see multiple species depending on our practice, and we all know very well that different patients have different needs to keep them comfortable and healthy. We know that handling a frightened cat is not the same as handling an exuberant puppy, and we know that horses need different accommodations made for them compared to cattle, to put it simply. We as veterinary professionals want our patients to be as comfortable as possible while they are in our care, so we make these accommodations and we change our handling techniques to set them up for success, as best we can. When we were in school or training, it took some time for most of us to learn about the different needs of different animals, but the first step was education, and now we are so much more confident in the handling of our various patients.

Now extrapolate this to our colleagues. Veterinary professionals are a diverse bunch; we have colleagues who are queer, who are neurodiverse, who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), dealing with disabilities, you name it. Each and every member of our teams has something unique to bring to the table; it is our responsibility to foster this diversity and set every team member up for a successful career. The first step is education, as it was when we were learning how to handle and treat our patients. Educating ourselves on things such as proper use of pronouns, different gender expressions and sexual orientations, and becoming involved in celebrations like Pride Month can help our queer colleagues feel seen and appreciated, as just one example. I think we can all remember a time when we experienced success because we felt seen and appreciated in our workplaces. I’ll add a personal example for support: I came out to my colleagues, friends and family just last year. It was an extremely stressful time for me; I had no idea how the people in my life were going to react to this news, and I was afraid that I’d be treated differently or ostracized. My team at work is so incredible though, I found myself sick just after I had told my colleagues that I was queer, and I was stuck in the hospital for a day. I came back to work the next day and they had all dipped their hands in rainbow-coloured paint, and their handprints were all there, on a canvas, in the shape of a heart. This beautiful picture is now my prized possession, and it sits on my desk at work to remind me that I am loved and appreciated by my coworkers. Knowing that my team accepted me for all that I was, was all I needed at that time in my life, and I was able to thrive at work because I was supported so intensely.

So what are some things we can do to foster diversity of all kinds in the workplace, so that all of our team members feel supported? In my opinion, tolerance isn’t enough – we must strive for love and acceptance of everyone’s uniqueness. Little things like asking team members what pronouns they prefer or displaying a Pride flag in the hospital can go a long way in making people feel included, even our diverse clientele can benefit from this. We can help educate our clients and our colleagues on EDI related subjects through social media platforms as well. Making posts in support of Pride Month, Black History Month or Reconciliation Day can get our team and our clients engaged in these initiatives. Business will benefit too: comfortable clients are going to keep returning, and associates and employees that feel appreciated and supported are very likely to be more productive.

Just as we adapt to the unique needs of our patients, big and small, fuzzy, feathered or scaled, let's learn to do the same for our teammates. We all have strengths and talents, and when we are supported and accommodated, we can develop our skills in a safe environment and we can all begin to thrive.