25 November 2021
Ethnicity – The most ignored issue within the veterinary nurse profession
With only a population of 1.9% of BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) RVNs (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 2019), this profession is one of the most ethnically exclusive professions in the UK. This is in contrast the UK population which is 14% BAME.
According to a career diversity report (Norrie, 2017) dental practitioners one of the most diverse profession is 50%. Across the board of the animal-related careers the percentage is 5.5%. The veterinary surgeon profession is at 3%. Vet nursing trails behind with farming (1.4% BAME) as one of the least diverse professions in the UK.
Over the nine years I have been within this relatively new profession, I have seen it grow and develop at an exceptional rate. As a profession we have discussed and tackled multiple issues includes LGBTQIA+, neurodivergence, lack of male RVNs, chronic illnesses and disabilities, and the ever-constant fight over RVN salary. The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the nursing profession is not being widely discussed and this has always bothered me. This is not just a nurse phenomenon, a recent survey by the BVA, shows that within the veterinary profession, only 45% of vets polled were concerned about the lack of diversity (British Veterinary Association, 2019).
Following the prominence of the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and protests last year, this silence has angered me. Whilst the rest of the world was screaming for justice, we were silent. Silence can be more powerful than words. White silence can be extremely powerful and damaging (Capatides, 2020).
There were few RVNs who acknowledge or showed support during this time, the discourse around BLM has mainly ranged from lack of understanding or knowledge to truly disturbing commentary.
In terms of organisations who were meant to represent me, I felt abandoned. In terms of the veterinary publications that should be providing a platform for diverse voices, my approaches to write articles I have been ignored.
Over the years as an RVN, my skin colour and ethnicity has been constantly highlighted. Most notably being told I have been selected as a “diversity hire”, to experiencing a racism from both clientele and professionals. I know I’m not alone in my experiences of discrimination from within my own profession, a BVA survey showed that 47% of discriminatory incidents were perpetrated by senior colleagues, 18% of colleagues of an equal level and 35% by clients. Two thirds of discriminatory incidences go unreported (British Veterinary Association, 2019). That is not acceptable.
Highlighting the issues
Within the veterinary community, the vets have a head start in highlighting the issues, such as racism. There are organisations that do help.
Firstly, the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS) is a wonderful resource to get started into reading more about this subject. There are books, videos, podcasts and lots of resources for students, as well as qualified members.
Recently, the RCVS have formed a Diversity & Inclusion Working Group for the purposes of encouraging more diversity within the profession focusing on all areas of equality. Currently, there are a few vet nurse representatives within the group.
Animal Aspirations are a wonderful diverse student-led organisation from the Royal Veterinary College. They aim to increase diversity within the animal-related professions and currently have student lead groups within all vet schools.
All vet schools have a Widening Participation network which includes representatives from BVEDS, BVLGBT+, BVCIS (British Veterinary Chronic Illness Support). Currently, there is no such network amongst higher education institution training veterinary nurses.
Reasons frequently cited for lack of BAME students in both the vet and vet nursing, include a lack of interest in animals, however the Runnymede trust found that that vet was one of the top 5 career choices amongst 7-14yr girls with Afro-Caribbean backgrounds (Platt, 2018).
What can RVNs do?
Look into the organisations listed and ask how you can help. Reading about the current issues, whilst extraordinarily uncomfortable, is absolutely necessary. Engaging in courses that talk about workplace racism and how to tackle it are crucial. As this is an ignored issue, a lot of practices do not regard this as important to talk about.
We need to talk and discuss with each other to gain a better understanding. We need to be supportive of each other because that is when the profession is at its strongest. We need to talk about what is right and wrong and what we feel uncomfortable with. There is a wide variety of culture out there.
Discuss this with the organisations, such as the BVNA and BVEDS. There needs to be formal channels ensuring voices are heard. Issues and barriers faced by ethnically and racially diverse members need to be heard and championed. Particularly with the veterinary nursing colleges and universities.
Be considerate of how we treat clients and colleagues. If a staff member or client feels that they have treated negatively, they are more likely to not engage with the profession. We need to be aware that our actions and words can have a strong impact on others.
No matter the diversity, this is a profession worth joining and they shouldn’t feel that this is an exclusive profession. This needs to be an inclusive profession. The BVA have produced multiple resources, particularly the BVA Good Veterinary Workplaces policy which discuss the fair treatment of everyone within the veterinary practice.
Please check out all the resources and links listed below.
I am a Registered Veterinary Nurse. I want to be viewed for my skills, my knowledge, my experience. I have a passion for anaesthesia. I am doing my Masters in the subject.
I do not want to be viewed as a lesser individual due to the colour of my skin or my ethnicity. I do not want to be considered disadvantaged. I am not your diversity hire.
And whilst I do not speak for the entire BAME RVN community know that I am not alone in feeling that our profession is lacking inclusivity, missing out of the diversity of our society. To my BAME RVNs out there, do not feel that you are ever alone. You can participate or read more with BVEDS or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The BVNA are about to launch a Diversity and Inclusivity Group (DIG), to help tackle issues surrounding race, sexuality, illness, etc. RVNs and SVNs need to be able to work safely within the profession without fear of discrimination. It’s time to help current and future RVNs. If you wish to contact the BVNA about this, please email email@example.com.
Now that the vets have started the spark on addressing racism, now is the time for veterinary nurses to follow suit.
Georgina Sharman RVN
British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society: https://bveds.com/
Animal Aspirations: https://www.animalaspirations.com/
RCVS Diversity and Inclusion Working Group: https://www.rcvs.org.uk/who-we-are/committees/advancement-of-the-professions-committee/diversity-and-inclusion-working-group-dig/
BVA Good Veterinary Workplace: https://www.bva.co.uk/media/3708/bva-position-on-good-veterinary-workplaces.pdf
British Veterinary Association, 2019. BVA report on discrimination in the veterinary profession, London: British Veterinary Association.
Capatides, C., 2020. White silence on social media: Why not saying anything is actually saying a lot. [Online]
Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/white-silence-on-social-media-why-not-saying-anything-is-actually-saying-a-lot/
[Accessed 23 August 2021].
Norrie, R., 2017. The Two Sides of Diversity: Which are the most ethnically diverse occupations?, London: Policy Exchange.
Platt, L., 2018. Occupational aspirations of children from primary school to teenage years across ethnic groups, London: Runnymede Trust.
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 2019. The 2019 Survey of the Veterinary Nurse Profession, London: RCVS.