We can’t change attitudes towards ethnicity and culture overnight but we must be united and forward thinking

Due to the sensitive nature of the topic the author wishes to remain anonymous. 

Ethnocultural empathy is an interesting term which I am sure many of you have not come across. By the end of this blog, one will hopefully understand why this term is important for the future of the veterinary profession. It all started with a personal situation I unfortunately had to deal with. I ended up feeling isolated and my professional integrity was damaged due to inaction, a lack of knowledge and support.

Being from an ethnic minority background, I am aware of differing attitudes to diversity in this country. I have experienced occasions where people have acted inappropriately towards me but thankfully this has been very uncommon. I chose to be a vet due to my love of animals and even though the profession is mainly made up of white middle class British graduates, I have rarely had a problem. The vets I have met and studied and worked with have been nothing less than amazing. The clients I have also encountered have occasionally had suspicions at the beginning but have been very welcoming and friendly. I always feared I would encounter a client who would dislike me purely for my ethnicity and unfortunately this fear was to become reality.

It was a Sunday on call when I got a phone call for a calving from one of our clients. As I was on my way, one of my bosses phoned me to say he had been rung directly and they wanted him instead. The client had refused to have me on his farm for no good reason and would rather have any other vet from my practice, even a new graduate who had just started. The farmer tried to prove his innocence to my boss but unfortunately this did not make sense. I had previously attended the farm for two successful calvings. The farmer had previously ignored me in front of my colleagues and acted rudely on other occasions towards me. It was suggested by one practice partner that the farmer may have some issues with my ethnicity.

When requesting help from my practice partners, I was not appropriately supported. It seemed that the requests of the client were more important than the issues I faced. I tried the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, British Veterinary Association and Veterinary Defence Society for advice but was again unsuccessful. Vetlife was very sympathetic but unfortunately none of the vets had any experience in this area.

It was agreed with my boss that I would not go back to the farm, after weeks of trying to get some support from my practice. This left me in a position of isolation and made me question my ability in farm animal practice. Mentally I was very affected and this adversely affected my personal life. It was after a few months, I decided to try again and raise this issue with the professional veterinary bodies to try to increase awareness and support thus preventing this situation adversely affecting other vets in the future.

Of those responding to the RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Profession 2014, only 3% identified themselves as from an ethnic minority. Also as of July 2014, out of 26,439 registered veterinary surgeons, 7,835 (approximately 30%) qualified from outside the UK, which leads to a large cultural mix. This will only increase in the coming years with the change in the population demographic and appeal of the profession in the UK. I know we can’t change clients’ attitudes towards ethnicity and culture overnight but we must be united and an example of a forward thinking profession to the public. For example, the NHS, dentists and lawyers all have committees, advice and guidance for colleagues in my position and I feel the veterinary profession should also go forward in this way. In my opinion there should be more education at undergraduate level which is supported with further guidance, training and support for qualified veterinary surgeons.

It is becoming clear that in order to build a profession that is successful at improving conditions and resolving problems, we need to understand and support the many cultures working in the veterinary profession. As educated members of any community, veterinary surgeons should be expected to exercise tolerance and understanding and to help avoid harmful bigotry and discrimination. This is where ethnocultural empathy, the understanding of feelings of individuals that are ethnically and/or culturally different from one’s self, is key to future progression.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of either the RCVS or the BVA.

  1. James Ward
    James Ward says:

    It is shocking that this sort of behaviour should still present itself in these times. I feel really sorry for the author and hope the event has not affected them too permanently. I can only hope the veterinary associations will take action to prevent these situations being tolerated in future

  2. Ben Gamsa
    Ben Gamsa says:

    An interesting and thought provoking account that requires the regulatory bodies to stand up and take notice. The demographics compared to the medical sector are particularly eye opening and it seems the author has tackled this issue as the tip of the iceberg for the veterinary profession, that has a potential to become a more common complaint as the percentage of non-white, non-British vets practising in the UK increases.

  3. Rob Hanson
    Rob Hanson says:

    It is with real sadness that I read about the lack of support available to the author from their employer. It is even more regrettable that the RCVS, BVA and VDS are unable to appropriately support or advise a member. By brushing this matter under the carpet and pandering to the requests of the farmer, the author has been discriminated against by their employer. In no other workplace would this be acceptable, let alone a professional one. When will our profession wake up, unite and move into the 21st century?
    We can’t possibly expect respect from the public, if we don’t first respect each other.
    I really hope this article becomes the catalyst for further debate on both the issue raised and also on the lack of member support within the veterinary profession.

  4. Marissa Robson
    Marissa Robson says:

    Confront, Ignore, Condone. These are the choices when you hear racist language.

    As one of the 3%, my experiences of other peoples prejudice have (unfortunately) provided opportunity to develop a set of skills I have never really wanted. Have I always had the skills to deal with racism…well no.
    Each experience taught me how to handle myself and the people involved, each experience taught me that hoping it will all go away isn’t a good strategy.

    And so what of my employers who haven’t been exposed and educated in this way. Employment law and an equal opportunities policy doesn’t automatically mean employers know what to do or how to support their staff. Often employers are grossly under prepared for these events, and that is something we should be actively addressing as a profession.

    Here is a letter I wrote in an attempt to skill my colleagues after overhearing racist conversation in the work place….

    “….I believe your initial remark was an unthinking comment. Not intended to hurt, but showed a lack of respect. You share your vocabulary with people who use it loaded with hatred. By using this word it effects how you yourself are perceived.

    The problem is the word’s insidious nature, if you use it in a room full of people it makes everyone who hears it complicit. You know it would be offensive to say it to someone’s face, but by saying it to other people indicates that you feel comfortable saying this word in front of them, perhaps because they too use this word.

    When I heard this word it made me feel sick. You are someone in this practice who is respected and sets an example of how to behave. And when I challenged you say sorry like it is a swear word, but swear words don’t discriminate; they don’t have this effect….because already I am thinking… Why did none of my other colleagues challenge you? And I wonder what you think of me…or if you would defend me from these attitudes? You have just reminded me I am not white…. I am different. And the people who hate me for this use this language. It is an isolating and frightening word.

    Confront, Ignore, condone. These are the choices when you hear racist language. Let me be very clear the last two can appear the same. I hope you too will feel conflicted when you hear this word…”

  5. anon
    anon says:

    Sad that people are so narrow minded, farmer should have been told where to go! I have seen this happen first hand but it was a FEMALE farmer refusing a FEMALE vet for a calving!!!


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