Becoming more multi-cultural is one of the challenges facing the profession of veterinary medicine.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) has launched a major initiative called “DiVersity Matters” which focuses on the importance of having the veterinarians in a community reflect the people of the community they serve.

That program is achieving results. Under-represented minorities now comprise about 10.3% of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students studying in veterinary medicine colleges around the country. One of the reasons for that success is that many of the nation’s 28 colleges of veterinary medicine have launched individual programs designed to enhance minority recruiting.

In the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, a new “Ambassador Program” has been created to help stimulate interest in careers in veterinary medicine among multicultural populations.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Ed Monroe, of Blacksburg, a professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, who chairs the college’s Committee on Diversity. “I’m excited about it.”

Monroe believes that one of the great strengths of the program is that it gets current DVM students – whom Monroe believes are the best recruiters-- out into the high schools where they can talk with high school students about the veterinary profession.

The program was suggested by a second year veterinary student and established by Lynn Young, the college’s director of Alumni Relations and Student Affairs. Young, who established similar programs for two other colleges at Virginia Tech, is involved with the day-to-day management of the program. About 20 DVM students have currently signed up to participate in the program.

The experience orchestrated for participating DVM students over the past spring break offers a glimpse of how the program works. About 10 students spoke at high schools near their homes that have high ratios of ethnic and social diversity.

Armed with copies of the college promotional video, printed publications, PowerPoint presentations, and other materials, the VMRCVM students talked with the students about veterinary medicine, obtained contact information for later follow-up, and promoted the upcoming annual “Open House.” The students also met with high school guidance counselors as part of the recruiting effort.

“I definitely think this program has the potential to increase the number of multicultural applications within our applicant pool,” said Monroe.

Monroe, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Dr. Grant Turnwald, and several students attended the “Southeast Regional Diversity Matters” symposium at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. That meeting attracted students, administrators, and faculty members from a half-dozen southeastern colleges of veterinary medicine to discuss new strategies for achieving more diversity in the profession.

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) is a two-state, three-campus professional school operated by the land-grant universities of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the University of Maryland at College Park. Its flagship facilities, based at Virginia Tech, include the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which treats more than 40,000 animals annually. Other campuses include the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., and the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park, home of the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. The VMRCVM annually enrolls approximately 500 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and graduate students, is a leading biomedical and clinical research center, and provides professional continuing education services for veterinarians practicing throughout the two states.