Why the Veterinary Profession Needs Diversity
Veterinary medicine needs help with diversity. In 2013, the profession of veterinary medicine was named the “whitest profession” by The Atlantic magazine. This report mirrored another report in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, which gave veterinary medicine the designation as “most segregated of all the health professions.”
For this reason, and a plethora of other reasons, the contributions of African-American veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and research scientists should be recognized and celebrated. Their accomplishments are not only great because their impact on countless animal and human lives, but also due to the ability to overcome societal prejudice, segregation, and injustice.
Here are just four of the amazing African-American veterinarians who have made an enormous impact on the profession and in the lives of others.
Dr. Frederick D. Patterson
Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) represent about 3% of colleges in the U.S. but educate 40% of all African-American health professionals. Dr. Patterson helped to establish Tuskegee University as one of the premier HBCUs in the nation. Dr. Patterson is not only one of the most influential African-American veterinarians in United States history, but he became the third president of Tuskegee Institute in 1935 and established the United Negro College Fund in 1944. The next time you hear someone say “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, credit Dr. Patterson for creating that adage. Dr. Patterson earned many degrees by the early age of 31. He received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) from Iowa State University and Doctorate of Philosophy from Cornell University. Dr. Patterson also won a federal contract to establish a full air base at Tuskegee which gave birth to the now legendary Tuskegee Airmen of the World War II U.S. Army Corps. His decades of work were commemorated in 1987, when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dr. Ruby Perry
Dr. Perry is an outstanding veterinarian and human being. She broke a glass ceiling in veterinary medicine by becoming the first African-American board certified veterinary radiologist. Dr. Perry received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 1977 from the Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine and she received a Master of Science degree from Michigan State University in 1991. It is only fitting that she now serves as the Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Tuskegee University.
Dr. Perry has left an indelible impact on students’ lives through her decades of teaching. From 1982 to 1988, Dr. Perry was an assistant veterinary radiology professor at Tuskegee. She also served as acting chair of the Department of Small Animal Medicine - Surgery and Radiology. In 1995, Dr. Perry served as section chief of diagnostic imaging at Michigan State University, a post she held for six years. She was also a tenured associate professor of veterinary radiology for more than 17 years before returning to Tuskegee.
In full disclosure, I had the pleasure and honor of sharing a delicious Thanksgiving meal with Dr. Perry one the coldest November days in Michigan. The entire evening I knew I was in distinguished company and I’m proud that she is one of my colleagues.
Dr. James Courtney
Besides having a very dignified and regal last name, Dr. Courtney is mainly celebrated for breaking barriers. Dr. Courtney was the first African-American to receive an undergraduate degree from Texas A&M. In 1970, he was also the first to receive a DVM degree from Texas A&M. Dr. Courtney practiced veterinary medicine in Compton, California after which he transitioned into the public sector. He worked for USDA’s Meat and Poultry Inspection program as inspector in charge. Dr. Courtney traveled the nation working to keep the nation’s food supply safe. He became USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service circuit supervisor in Kansas City, assistant area supervisor in Albany, New York, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and area supervisor in Jefferson City, Missouri. He was named district manager for the newly created district of Dallas In 1997.
Dr. Debbye Turner
Dr. Turner has done a masterful job in blending media with veterinary medicine. Dr. Turner earned a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture in May 1986 from Arkansas State University. She then graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in May 1991 with her doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Turner was crowned Miss America in 1990 which is an achievement that is unmatched to this day. Since 2001, Dr. Turner has also been a broadcast journalist contributor to the CBS television program The Early Show. Her Life Matters (formerly known as, Yikes, I’m a Grown Up!) segment offered perspectives on the pleasures and perils of being an adult. She has also appeared on Pet Planet, the Early Show, Saturday Early Show, Show Me St. Louis, and she has hosted The Gentle Doctor.
Regardless of race, gender, age, or cultural background, diversity in veterinary medicine should continue to be celebrated and promoted. Diversity within veterinary medicine will bring intelligent and talented minds that to the profession that more accurately reflects the diversity of pet lovers.