Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine


“We’re seeing a lot of the equity and diversity conversation happen among recently graduated veterinarians and candidates for veterinary degrees. Each state or region has their own veterinary medical associations (VMA) and there are several that have initiatives to tackle this issue.”

Melody Martínez, CVT, President of the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association

Like many other sectors, the field of veterinary medicine grapples with the challenge of ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion. Historically, the veterinary profession has been predominantly white and male, and while other professions have made strides towards a more diverse workforce, this field has been lagging behind. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023), over 91 percent of veterinarians, 92 percent of vet techs, and 78 percent of veterinary assistants are white.

“The profession has not had a lot of diversity by race or ethnicity for a very long time, and it still doesn’t,” says Melody Martínez, certified veterinary technician and the president of the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association. “The story that we need to center is the fact that the profession has maintained a very homogenous identity and it is not keeping track with similar professions, like human medicine, dentistry, and other allied health professions.”

For veterinary technicians, this issue manifests in various forms from lack of representation in leadership positions to differential access to opportunities for professional development. Barriers, such as unconscious bias and systemic inequities, often impede the progress towards a diverse and inclusive work environment. The limited representation of minority groups within the field can also lead to a lack of culturally competent care.

While the credentialed side of veterinary care still lacks diversity, Martínez notes that there is an area where it is improving: “Uncredentialed vet techs and assistants include a large contingent of Latinx professionals,” she says.

It is essential to actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in veterinary medicine to enrich the field with varied perspectives and ensure comprehensive and empathetic care for all pet owners and their pets. “I read an article a few years back about a Black woman, who had a dog and would drive 50 miles to go see a Black veterinarian outside of her city because it’s the only place you can find one. When the reporter asked her, ‘Why would you do that?’ She replied, ‘I have been personally treated poorly by my own doctors. I don’t want to replicate that experience when I go to the vet.’ That’s why diversity, equity, and inclusion is so important. There’s a whole population of people who are fearful of going to the veterinarian, because of the way they might be treated,” shares Martínez.

Keep reading to learn more about why there is a lack of diversity in the veterinary field, what is being done to address it, and Martínez’s advice for aspiring vet techs from underrepresented backgrounds.

Meet the Expert: Melody Martínez, CVT

Melody Martínez

Melody Martínez is a certified veterinary technician and the president of the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association. She is the first-generation daughter of Afro-Caribbean, working-class immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Martínez started her veterinary career in 2007 and has worked in various roles including small animal general practice, emergency and critical care, and as a senior animal caregiver at Farm Sanctuary in New York. In 2015, she shifted her career focus to nonprofit management, community organizing, and fundraising with organizations dedicated to racial and economic justice.

Currently, Martínez is the principal and founder of Acorde Consulting, where she provides training, assessments, and executive coaching to advance racial equity and inclusion efforts.

Reasons for the Lack of Diversity Within Veterinary Technology

The lack of diversity within the professional veterinary space is due to several reasons, most of which are rooted in the deep history of systemic racism in our country. According to Martínez, here are some of the top causes.

Cost Of College And Family Education

The high cost of college education can be a significant hindrance for students from low-income families, which includes many minority communities. While it is possible to work as a veterinary assistant without higher education, veterinary technicians must complete at least two years of schooling in most cases. “Many people that cannot afford a college education fall along racial lines,” says Martínez. “If your family does not have generational wealth, the likelihood of you being able to go to college significantly decreases. Also if your parents didn’t go to college, you’re less likely to go to college yourself. There’s less of a generational push to go and get a degree.”

Lack of Exposure to the Profession

For many reasons, students from underrepresented communities do not have access to resources and networks that can provide information about the veterinary profession. They may not even consider a career in this field because they are unaware of the opportunities available: “There’s less chance that someone in your family has worked in the veterinary field if you’re a person of color. So there’s less exposure to this career when you’re younger or before you go to college,” shares Martínez.

Limited Experience with Animals

Historical racism has had a significant impact on people of color’s experience with and around animals. “For many centuries in the history of the United States, only certain people could own land. And if you owned land, you probably owned animals to work that land. So those people would have experienced all sorts of animals like horses, chickens, pigs, etc. That exposure to animals over generations can lead to a profession in veterinary medicine later on,” says Martínez. “If you own a house, you are more likely to own a pet versus if you rent. Unfortunately, a larger population of people of color rent versus owning a home.”

Pay in Veterinary Technology

The average salary for vet techs is relatively low compared to other healthcare professions, making it challenging to attract and retain diverse talent from different backgrounds. The financial burden of student loans can also deter individuals from pursuing a career in veterinary technology. “At the other end of your schooling, you have a two-year degree or your four-year degree as a technologist, and you still might not be making enough,” says Martínez. “It is not a very lucrative career, both for veterinarians and technicians, and that impedes people of color from going into the profession.”

Ways to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine

To address the issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion in veterinary medicine, it is essential to adopt a multifaceted approach.

On the veterinarian side, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has recognized the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the veterinary profession. It has made significant strides in promoting these values. They launched a Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine initiative which aims to increase the representation of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds within the profession, enriching the field with a broad range of perspectives and experiences.

“We’re seeing a lot of the equity and diversity conversation happen among recently graduated veterinarians and candidates for veterinary degrees,” shares Martínez. “Each state or region has their own veterinary medical associations (VMA) and there are several that have initiatives to tackle this issue.”

However, there has not been a concerted or organized effort by veterinary technicians to work on the issue similarly. Martínez believes this is largely due to the short duration of vet tech programs and the lack of inclusion of diversity education in these programs: “The reality is that oftentimes, these issues go unaddressed if there are not people who are directly impacted by that issue within the school or organization,” she says. “If an organization, such as the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), doesn’t have a lot of people of color in their organization, it’s unlikely that it’s going to get prioritized. I know from experience in my own work at MCVMA, that there has to be people who are dedicated in prioritizing the issue and are willing to take up the mantle and do the work.”

She continues, “Technicians and assistants need to organize around this issue. My feeling as a technician is that we don’t need to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion on its own. It should be intertwined with the other issues that we’re seeing such as college affordability, access to college, home ownership, and other issues that disproportionately impact people of color. We’re still living the legacy of segregation.”

Advice for Aspiring Vet Tech of Underrepresented Backgrounds

As someone who is a minority working as a vet tech in this field, Martínez has advice for aspiring vet tech students who may not see other students who look like them. “This is one of the best professions in the world. It has so much to offer you, communities, animals, and in being able to make the world a better place,” she says. “The advice I would give is to build community. Get together with people who have similar values and similar identities because at the same time, it’s one of the best professions out there, it’s also a very difficult place to sustain yourself financially, emotionally, and mentally. The best way to thrive is to build community.”

Community can look at a lot of different ways: “The community can be outside of your hospital, clinic, or school but find your people and talk to them. Get involved with organizations like NAVTA, MCVMA, Black DVM Network or the National Veterinary Professionals Union,” she says. “Having stepped away from the field for a while to go into nonprofit work, the thing that really brought me back into veterinary medicine was the MCVMA. When I found them, I knew I found my people who care about the same things that I do. I found people who care about animals, veterinary medicine, and addressing the lack of diversity in our profession.”

Kimmy Gustafson (Writer)

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor's offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.