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Three things diversity in vet med has taught me

INSTAGRAM @fania_thevetstudent    TWITTER @fania383   
Maria Estefania Colon is a fourth-year veterinary student at Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. She was born and raised in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. At a young age, her family fostered her genuine interest for animal welfare and she became dedicated to take care of injured stray cats in her neighborhood. In her free time, she loves reading, writing, and telling her stories as a student blogger for Merck Manual Vet Stories blog. She also aspires to become a role model for low-income students and inspire them to pursue their dreams of becoming a vet.

As my school journey is ending, I want to reflect on why diversity matters in the veterinary field. I can say that I feel blessed to have experienced it in many forms and will be joining the 10 percent of underrepresented minorities who receive a DVM degree very soon. As a Hispanic minority student, I believe embracing diversity can open doors to many opportunities for students like me, who come from different ethnicities and social backgrounds. Through my time at Tuskegee University, I have learnt three important lessons on diversity. 

1. Diversity can help break barriers of segregation and provide an enriched cultural environment

My school was the only veterinary school that provided high-quality education in times of segregation and has been responsible for graduating 75 percent of the minority veterinarians out there. At Tuskegee, I have been studying in a diverse environment where we accept our differences and discrimination has no place. But most importantly, we embrace who we are and where we come from. 

2. Diversity has allowed me to showcase my Hispanic heritage without being afraid

I have had the chance to teach other Hispanic students about the uniqueness of my Puerto Rican culture and teach Spanish to others who have a genuine interest in becoming bilingual. I have even tried my best to teach people some medical terms in my native language and become a translator if needed when traveling to externships. Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to see first-hand how diversity can help break barriers in this profession. An example of this was when I worked as an extern in a small animal clinic, where many of the veterinarians spoke both Polish and English. They had many clients who had recently moved to this country and spoke little English. It was fascinating to see the veterinarian-pet-client interaction play out in another language that was not Spanish or English. 

3. Diversity has given me better insight into other people’s perspectives about life

My classmates come from all over the United States and some of my professors are from India, Africa, and Asia. I have seen the amazing strength and determination they have all held when faced with the inevitable obstacles and challenges of this profession. With this, I have familiarized myself with my classmates’ and professors’ traditions, languages, and beliefs. Little by little, I have understood their needs and concerns and am sure that what I have absorbed from them will guide me to better serve various communities in the future

Today, I have a better perspective of how diversity matters in my profession. I believe it is my strength. I want to embrace it and use it to help support others without limitations. The veterinary world needs more of diversity and the impact that comes along with it. I cannot wait to receive my DVM and proudly become part of that small percentage of minority veterinarians. 

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