Practice group’s bid to boost representation

Written by: IVC Evidensia
Published on: 28 Mar 2022

IVC diversityA pioneering scheme aimed at addressing one of the most pressing problems facing the veterinary profession has taken its first step forward.

Earlier this year, IVC Evidensia announced a new scholarship scheme for undergraduates from ethnic minority backgrounds. Now, the first 13 veterinary scholars have started their studies all across the country.

And the practice group’s Ethnic Diversity Board insists they will be the vanguard of an ongoing push to help change the face of the profession.

Although around 14 per cent of the working age population identify as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), recent figures show only three per cent of the veterinary profession are from BAME backgrounds.

Amanda Boag, chief medical officer at IVC Evidensia, is one of the 12-strong Ethnic Diversity Board members. She was pivotal in setting it up, alongside group chief executive Steve Clarke, and it follows on from the work she did on diversity previously when she was president of the royal college.

Ms Boag said: “The whole profession recognises this is an issue and there’s not one simple solution.

“It’s hugely important that a leader like IVC Evidensia is seen to be setting a bar for creating positive change. By taking a lead with this scholarship scheme, hopefully it’s a bar that others will want to reach.

“We’re delighted to see the first scholars start their studies, and
we’re looking forward to supporting them as they begin their journeys in the profession.”

As well as committing to an annual grant of £5,000 per year for each student, IVC Evidensia is also ensuring that a support network is in place with the Ethnic Diversity Board, which comprises of majority BAME members, a mentoring programme and support for student societies.

Amber Cordice (pictured left), whose mum is white and dad black with Caribbean heritage, said the crucial scheme is vital in opening up opportunities for those from ethnically diverse communities.

The 22-year-old, who studies at Harper and Keele Veterinary School, said: “This scholarship scheme is
so important.

“I feel it’s only recently that a light has been shone on the issue of the lack of diversity within the profession. We need to have ethnic role models in all walks of life. Not having that can be a real deterrent for young students who come from backgrounds like mine and maybe don’t think they’d fit in.

“If they don’t see anyone like them, they may well assume they won’t have a chance or that they will somehow be viewed differently, or even that ticking an ethnicity box on a form may mean they don’t make the cut. We need to get to a point when having people from all backgrounds is considered normal and we stop having to have that conversation.”

Shyam Kanjee (pictured centre), from Hendon, is another of those whose veterinary ambitions are being facilitated by the innovative scholarship scheme.

The 19-year-old, who is UK-born with Indian heritage, said: “Wherever I went to do my veterinary work experience, I couldn’t see anyone who was from an ethnic minority background. All I saw were white people. It made me wonder whether it was like that through the whole country – and it turns out it pretty much is.

“To be honest, it did put me off a bit, but the pros of being a vet very much outweighed the cons for me.

“Studying here at the RVC, which I think is the most diverse in the UK, I still see it very much populated by white people. But I’m so grateful to have this opportunity, and it’s amazing that an organisation like IVC Evidensia is taking the lead.

“Promoting veterinary medicine in this way to the BAME community is such a big step in the right direction.”

Vets Now, which is part of the IVC Evidensia group, has also launched a new scholarship scheme to fund vet nurse students from BAME backgrounds, with the first three now in place. 

For 18-year-old Venus Tamjidi (pictured right) from London, making it into her veterinary nursing studies has been a battle fought on two fronts. Not only is she from an ethnic background that is under-represented, she has also had a lifelong struggle with autism. However, her passion for veterinary nursing won through and she is now studying at the RVC Hawkshead campus.

Venus, whose heritage is Kurdish, said: “At my school, very few people chose the veterinary profession and it was even rarer for someone from a BAME background.

“You don’t see a lot of people from ethnically diverse communities, and it’s important to change that and see people from all backgrounds.

“I think it’s really important to have a scheme like this, but we also need to make sure people from diverse ethnic backgrounds are made aware of it.”

While the three per cent figure is shocking enough, it is even lower in some sectors of the profession, including farm vets.

David Charles, a vet at Scarsdale Vets in the east midlands and one of the members of the Ethnic Diversity Board, said: “There can be a perception that only a certain type of person becomes a vet. And there’s an issue in general with the thinking that you can’t be an equine or farm vet if you haven’t grown up around it. That’s damaging and self-perpetuating.

“Being a role model is very important. As well as taking the lead with the scholarships, I know IVC Evidensia wants to be as supportive as possible for everyone on the scheme.”

For all the scholars, the hard work has only just begun with the early months of their veterinary studies. Thanks to the scholarship scheme it is, however, an experience they
are relishing.

Amber added: “I’m staying on campus for the first year and moving in was really emotional. I knew I’d never give up, but realising I’d finally made it hit me hard. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find the funds, so this has been a lifeline. I wouldn’t be sitting where I am without it.

“And it’s not just the money, which is obviously so important – it’s having that backing from IVC Evidensia, and they can help with clinical placements and resources. That is all a massive deal.”