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ACVIM Diplomate’s work to compile timeline of Black members illustrates deficit

Feb 23, 2022, 14:17 PM by Michelle Hardy

In January, Coretta Patterson, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM), began thinking of ways she could recognize Dr. Erick Mears – a fellow small animal internal medicine Diplomate and colleague at BluePearl – for Black History Month.

“We had similar mentors,” Dr. Patterson says of herself and Dr. Mears. “We had similar focal points in our lives, so it started as a way for BluePearl to honor one of their own.”

Dr. Coretta Patterson

Dr. Patterson reached out to Marian Tuin, Membership Manager at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM), to help determine when Dr. Mears became Board-certified. Dr. Patterson also was interested in knowing Dr. Mears’ position in the overall timeline of Black specialists Board-certified by the ACVIM.

“I figured that Dr. Mears was probably in the single digits in terms of Black Internists,” Dr. Patterson says, explaining she believed Dr. Mears to be one of the first Board-certified small animal internal medicine specialists in the history of the ACVIM.

As they exchanged emails, Tuin shared that the ACVIM has not historically collected racial demographic information from its members and, thus, could not determine Dr. Mears’ place in the college’s history of Black Diplomates.

“That is sort of how I got started on this whole thing,” Dr. Patterson says.

What started as a way to recognize her colleague became a complete timeline of Black ACVIM members that Dr. Patterson took upon herself to compile. She explains that she sees the project as both an important historical record and a way to honor the college’s Black members.

Since the ACVIM does not record racial demographics but does record its members’ boarding dates, Dr. Patterson began by compiling a list of names, passing them on to Tuin to confirm their date of certification.


“There aren’t that many Black specialists. I learned that Dr. Mears was maybe fourth or fifth in the order of boarding in 1996, and I was maybe ninth or tenth, and I was boarded in 2006.”

“It is basically just me going through my phone and talking to other people,” Dr. Patterson says of her process. Without official records to work from, the effort has involved her reaching out to colleagues, acquaintances and former mentors. What Dr. Patterson has discovered so far has confirmed what she initially knew to be true.

“There aren’t that many Black specialists,” she says. “I learned that Dr. Mears was maybe fourth or fifth in the order of boarding in 1996, and I was maybe ninth or tenth, and I was boarded in 2006.”

Of the discovery, Dr. Patterson explains that she has mixed feelings. “It was cool, but also sad to see so few Black members, with the [ACVIM] being as old as it is.”

Statistics from the US Census Bureau, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) show that veterinary medicine is among the least racially and ethnically diverse professions in the United States, with Black men and women making up somewhere between 1-2% of all veterinarians. Additionally, 2018-2019 data from the AAVMC shows that only 2.1% of veterinary school applicants were Black. When it comes to specialty veterinary medicine, as Dr. Patterson discovered in her search, the data is less readily available.

Sarita Miles, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Neurology) is one of the members on Dr. Patterson’s list, as well as a colleague at BluePearl. Boarded in neurology in 2012, Dr. Miles attributes much of her personal career success to having a caring and involved Black mentor in the field who helped guide her through a “predominantly white, racially exclusive” veterinary program. She also says she would have benefitted from access to other Black veterinary students and professionals and sees Dr. Patterson’s project as an opportunity for Black ACVIM Diplomates to come together and share their unique experiences.

“It is most important to have access to as many resources as possible when considering furthering our education,” Dr. Miles says. “Providing a list of Black ACVIM Diplomates can only help with this, but can also help those of us who are colleagues network with one another about employment opportunities, experiences and ‘coping’ with the unfortunate norm of dealing with microaggressions and other problems uniquely faced by BIPOC.”


“Recording racial demographics provides goals and inspiration for minorities in this country who are interested in veterinary medicine as a career. It is especially important in this time when there is a concerted politically-motivated effort to pretend that racial prejudice does not exist and that criticism of racism should be banned.”

David McKenzie, DVM, MPH, PhD, DACVIM (LAIM), is one of the few Black Diplomates and even fewer non-white specialists in large animal internal medicine. He also views Dr. Patterson’s project as being “vitally important” in a profession with so little diversity. 

“Recording racial demographics provides goals and inspiration for minorities in this country who are interested in veterinary medicine as a career,” Dr. McKenzie explains. “It is especially important in this time when there is a concerted politically-motivated effort to pretend that racial prejudice does not exist and that criticism of racism should be banned."

As a professor at Alabama’s Tuskegee University, Dr. McKenzie has made an effort over the years to collect information on the college’s veterinary school graduates – not all of whom are Black – who have gone on to achieve Board-certification. Tuskegee is the only historically Black university with a veterinary college, with an estimated 70% of Black graduates of veterinary medicine in the United States having come from the program.

One of these Tuskegee graduates is Aja Harvey, DVM, DACVIM (LAIM), a student of Dr. McKenzie’s whom he believes to be only the eighth Black Large Animal Internal Medicine Specialist ever. When she was informed of the list of Black ACVIM members, Dr. Harvey said she sees it as an opportunity for connection and mentoring.

“I hope that it will provide representation and a chance for mentoring upcoming veterinary students of color who wish to pursue board-certification down the road,” Dr. Harvey says. “That is an opportunity that I would have loved to have, had it existed at the time of my schooling.”


A small group of Black ACVIM Diplomates and Candidates came together for an informal luncheon during the 2017 ACVIM Forum conference. Photo courtesy of Dr. Coretta Patterson.

Back row left to right: Dr. Lauren Dodd, Dr. Christine Jenkins, Dr. Jody Lulich, Dr. Coretta Patterson, Dr. Sarah Waithe, Dr. Melissa Moya, Dr. Aja Harvey, Dr. Pamela Martin. 

Front row left to right: Sharon Costello, Dr. Carla Gartell, Dr. Forest Cummings, Dr. Sarita Miles, Dr. John Goodwin.

When her timeline is complete, Dr. Patterson plans to present it during a meeting hosted by BluePearl between the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) and the National Association for Black Veterinarians (NABV). While this meeting is still in the planning phases, Dr. Patterson is hopeful that it will help to kickstart ongoing collaboration between the two groups.

“The goal is to give these two organizations, who are kind of doing very similar things but not operating together, a meeting place hosted by one of the largest employers of veterinary professionals in North America. We want to help facilitate a conversation.”

Dr. Patterson looks forward to sharing her timeline during this meeting, seeing it as both an interesting historical piece and something that will help contextualize and inform plans to increase diversity in the profession going forward.

Within the ACVIM, Dr. Patterson’s project highlights the importance of recording the diversity of its membership, which includes over 3,000 individuals in the United States and beyond. The organization plans to begin offering members the opportunity to provide expanded demographic information – including race – for Diplomates to share voluntarily. The ACVIM’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Linda Fineman, says that she hopes this effort will help the organization better recognize and acknowledge the various identities of its members.

“We are looking forward to starting our work with a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) consulting group this month,” Dr. Fineman said in February. “They will guide our strategy around creating opportunities and supporting a more diverse membership, while also building an intentionally inclusive culture.”  

For Black members like Drs. Harvey, Miles and McKenzie, this effort by the ACVIM is a move in the right direction. While still acknowledging that “increasing diversity does not and will not happen overnight,” as Dr. Harvey says, recognizing the lack of diversity in the college and taking steps to find solutions is how the important work will begin.


“The main help would be to create a specific group of individuals who can work together to encourage, support and help guide BIPOC through the process and preparation of what it is truly like to not only matriculate through vet school, but to be fully aware of the complexities that are unique to practicing in this field where we are constantly at a disadvantage in many ways."

“In my time as a veterinarian, I believe the ACVIM has made considerable progress toward attracting minorities to internal medicine specialties,” Dr. McKenzie says. “When I first started attending the ACVIM Forum in 1996, I did not see any other people of color. They may have been there, but their numbers were so small as to be almost invisible. We are a lot more visible now, and with this initiative, our visibility should only increase.”

Dr. Miles is also hopeful, while still remaining reserved in her expectations of how long it will take the profession to truly improve for aspiring and existing Black specialists.

“The main help would be to create a specific group of individuals who can work together to encourage, support and help guide BIPOC through the process and preparation of what it is truly like to not only matriculate through vet school, but to be fully aware of the complexities that are unique to practicing in this field where we are constantly at a disadvantage in many ways,” Dr. Miles says. “I am hopeful that someday these circumstances will change –- I am just not optimistic that it will happen in my lifetime.”

On the point of more support, resources and action being needed from veterinary organizations like the ACVIM, both Drs. Miles and McKenzie agreed.

“It is vital that we promote inclusion and recognition of differences,” Dr. McKenzie says. “We will have to learn to celebrate and support our differences if we are to survive as a profession in an increasingly diverse country.”

The ACVIM plans to share Dr. Patterson’s timeline of ACVIM Board-certified Black Diplomates and will link to it here when it is completed. If you would like to contact Dr. Patterson in regards to her project, please reach out to Membership@ACVIM.org.

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