Megan Riveros reflects on 2017 Iverson Bell Symposium

Megan Riveros of Sterling, Virginia, is a third-year student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She is the president of the college's chapter of Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE), PMM chair for the Food Animal Practitioners Club, and fundraising chair for veterinary service fraternity Omega Tau Sigma.

From left to right: Mark Freeman; assistant professor of community practice; W. Edward Monroe, professor of internal medicine; Amber Roudette, past president and senior advisor for VOICE; Evymarie Prado-Sanchez; Michael Nappier, assistant professor of community practice; Carling Sitterley, assistant director of admissions and student services; Megan Shepherd, clinical assistant professor of nutrition; and Megan Riveros, president of VOICE.

As the current president of our student chapter of VOICE, I had the privilege to attend the Iverson Bell Symposium hosted by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges in Washington D.C. I was very grateful to have attended with the support of our college’s administration.

Every two years, the AAVMC hosts the Iverson Bell Symposium in honor of the late Dr. Iverson Bell, the first African American veterinarian to hold the position of vice president in the American Veterinary Medical Association. Bell left an outstanding legacy of leadership and contributions in promoting diversity in veterinary medicine.

I attended many different presentations about a variety of topics but enjoyed the ability to select specific programs to attend throughout the weekend that work towards creating a more diverse and inclusive environment in the veterinary profession. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the award recipients and hearing powerful testimonials about their influential experiences and achievements that have brought them to their current role in our profession. It was inspiring to hear about the impact that Iverson Bell award winner Dr. Allen Connelly of North Carolina State University has made on his college community and his commitment to expand the college’s diversity initiatives to fulfill a strategic mission. He continues to be a champion for diversity and is very deserving of the Iverson Bell award.

My experiences included presentations on revealing the hidden curriculum, being culturally competent before we can expect to recruit and retain a diverse population, and using a veterinary college as a case study to discover what students are really learning from what is not being said. Strong communication exists verbally and non-verbally and unconsciously we project our biases; opinions that can be contradictive to what we say. It can be very confusing and discouraging for students. However, it was encouraging to know that every college community is struggling with this, sharing their findings, and collaborating with colleagues to create a more inclusive environment. This ‘hidden curriculum’ is just as important in recruiting, retaining, and producing successful veterinarians.

The day concluded with a talk by political analyst Charlie Cook. Mr. Cook touched on the wavering political climate and shared his opinions and predictions on how the new administration will affect education and healthcare in the United States. It was entertaining and gave a slight reprieve from the heavy discussions that took place earlier in the day.

From left to right: Megan Riveros, Harvey Crumm of Zoetis, Carling Sitterley, Dean Cyril Clarke, Mark Freeman, and Amber Roudette.

I enjoyed the presentation given by our own Dr. Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services, and Dr. Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs, on implementing a holistic admissions review process. As an ambassador who participates in a variety of events that interact with the public and potential students, learning about how VMCVM has worked towards creating a more diverse population of students by embracing a holistic admissions review process can be beneficial when I communicate with potential students or students interested in veterinary medicine. The presentation was intended to inform other administrators from other colleges but I saw it as a tool to communicate better with applicants.

Much of the weekend also focused on enhancing health and wellness in our students and professionals. Other disciplines struggle with this as well in their respective programs and they have implemented programs to address this issue. Discussions around inter-professional education were very insightful for colleges to learn how they can model one program to the specific needs with given resources in their colleges. There are very progressive programs in colleges that have demonstrated significant positive outcomes on students' wellbeing but it will take time to reach students and collect long-lasting impacts of these programs.

Overall, diversity is a broad topic. These were only some of the many presentations given and above all, diversity is a work in progress. It is a full-time commitment that needs many champions and allies to create a lasting impact. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent at the conference and learning more about how the AAVMC supports diversity and works towards promoting wellbeing in our students!