Preparing Veterinary Hospitals for Greatness with DEI Initiatives

Shandell Maxwell, PhD, shares her experience as a black person in the veterinary industry

Shandell Maxwell, PhD, didn’t grow up in a family that took animals to the vet. “If Cuddles got sick, Cuddles would ‘run away’ because we weren’t taking Cuddles to an animal hospital. a norm in the black community to take animals to the vet, she recalled.

Growing up as a black woman, Maxwell described how the vet industry didn’t seem to be for people like her. That’s no surprise, given that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2019 nearly 90% of veterinarians are white, making it one of the least diverse healthcare professions.1 Maxwell described her experience working in the veterinary industry and how she was often the only black person in the room. “Working in the industry and feeling the pressure to change the perception of others who may have never worked with a black person was a heavy responsibility,” she said. She went on to explain how the story portrayed black people as lazy workers and better suited to serve than lead and how she hoped her work ethic would change the perception of those who held this belief.

“The industry should reflect the communities it serves,” she said, noting the disparity in diversity among veterinary staff. Maxwell has been promoting the need for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) since 2013. However, it was during the pandemic and after nearly 25 years of working in and out of the veterinary industry that she launched her own company, Byrd and Maxwell Coaching Institute, and took his passion to the next level. She now provides coaching and education services that help professionals progress, particularly in understanding DEI in the context of the veterinary industry.

The pandemic has led to a massive influx of vet appointments. “There is a talent crisis. There is a lack of staff,” she said. Maxwell believes that hiring with diversity in mind helps strengthen customer connections and could be one answer to finding skilled workers to meet demand. “Hire people with transferable skills and introduce the field to unrepresented groups and provide them with employment [are ways] fill this talent gap,” she said.

Breaking down the diversity barriers that impede industry growth also begins with educating younger generations who can add diversity to both the workforce and customer base, Maxwell noted. “Although I grew up with animals, I didn’t know I could be a vet or a vet tech,” she said. “The information about these trades was not presented to me during my studies or after obtaining my diploma. Instead, I was encouraged to become a Certified Practical Nurse or Registered Human Health Professional Nurse. These programs were highly promoted when I was in high school.

“Once I entered the veterinary field, I felt the industry was exclusively for white people or people who had extra money to take care of their pets because that was it. what I was seeing in animal hospitals, especially in Orange County, California,” Maxwell added. “But as I learned more about pet care and how it compared to the importance of human health, I started taking my pets to the hospital to be treated. they are cared for, and my family did the same.”

Animal love has no color lines, and sometimes all it takes is one person’s experience to inspire others to change their perception. “I’m thinking of kids who are raised with pets and socialized to become pet owners,” she said. “These children are the children of the future. They are future pet owners and future veterinarians and veterinary staff employees.

Maxwell is also passionate about uncovering the unconscious biases we can bring to the workplace, especially when it comes to medical ethics. “When [veterinarians] think about making a judgment about treatment, what they need to consider [are] patient needs, client welfare and public safety. Being able to pass judgment on these areas means that any prejudice must be eliminated. »

To carry out this important work, Maxwell is coaching industry leaders as an DEI consultant for The Veterinary Cooperative, and she will also launch an online course titled “Embracing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in a Veterinary Hospital. in early 2023 for employees to earn continuing education credit. It also provides DEI resources on its website.

Maxwell is passionate about expanding DEI practices in the veterinary industry, which may one day include her daughter, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian. Maxwell envisions a space where “differences are recognized and respected, unique skills and talents are used appropriately, and leaders understand their team’s capabilities and invest in creating an environment where everyone feels seen and supported. “.

Written by: Kaci Sintek grew up raising cattle, which sparked a deep love for animals. She now works as a marketing, communications and public relations professional in Denver, Colorado.

Interviewed: Shandell Maxwell, Ph.D. is a coach and speaker on diversity, equity and inclusion in the veterinary field. His company, Byrd and Maxwell Coaching Institute, seeks to prepare people for excellence through professional and personal life coaching.


Annual averages of household data: persons employed by detailed occupation, sex, race and Hispanic or Latino ethnic origin. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed July 13, 2022.