NABV + the Changing Face of Veterinary Medicine
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In this episode, Dr. Raphael Malbrue, the president of the National Association of Black Veterinarians, joins Mia and Krysten to introduce listeners to the organization, share its history and mission, and invite members of the profession to get involved in its growing community of black veterinarians and allies. Dr. Malbrue also offers a sneak peek at the NABV’s second annual conference, scheduled for June 17–19 in Columbus, Ohio.
DVM, M.S., CertAqV, DACLAM
A graduate of Tuskegee University, Dr. Malbrue is the 2021–22 president of the National Association of Black Veterinarians. He holds the post of associate director for the Abigail Wexner Research Institute and is an adjunct professor at OSU CVM.
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Mia Cunningham: Welcome back to the Fully Vetted Podcast, animal care news from the clinic to the farm, brought to you by the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association. We’re joined today by Dr. Raphael Malbrue, who, in addition to being the sitting President for the National Association of Black Veterinarians, is the associate director of Animal Resources Core at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at The Ohio State University. Did I get it all? Is that everything?
Raphael Malbrue: Yes. You made me realize I’m doing too much.
MC: Well, the reason that we invited you to join us today was to talk about the upcoming National Association of Black Veterinarians Conference that’s actually going to be held right here in Columbus, Ohio, at The Ohio State University. And while I’m excited to hear about the conference, before we go into that, can you tell us first about NABV, its history, and why you think it’s necessary for the profession?
RM: Yeah. Thanks for the introduction, first off. I’m very happy to be here and participate on this podcast. So, a little backstory about NABV: It was actually founded in 2016, and it was founded by a group of veterinarians that were all practicing in Louisiana at the time and were doing a lot of outreach work. And it was kind of decided that we probably should get a little more organized with what we’re doing. We just saw a need of creating kind of this center support affinity group for blacks in every aspect of the profession—those who identify as Black, African American, and our allies to just do a little bit more. And so that’s kind of how things came about.
It was actually founded by Dr. Annie Daniel, who was really one of those pinnacle individuals that helped to make this thing happen. She’s the one mentioned a lot because she actually put up a lot of her own funds to start this organization. And she was faculty member at Louisiana State at the time. I was a resident; I was in my residency there. And a couple of other members, Dr. Bernita Marshall, Dr. Tara Brown, Dr. Krista Miller have been some of those influential individuals from the very inception of this, back in the early 2000s. So, really, just from seeing the need and just from a lot of outreach work we were doing, we just saw this as a great way to make this sustainable for a lot of the work we were looking to do.
So, fast forward to present day. Now we are definitely a larger, stronger organization and have created several partnerships with a variety of groups to do exactly what our mission is focused on. And that’s creating this environment to cultivate inclusiveness, support Blacks in veterinary medicine, and advocate for blacks in veterinary medicine and doing that through members, partnerships, and our allies.
MC: So I’m going to take a step back. As you mentioned, you know, membership is open to allies and other people in the profession. So as I understand, you don’t have to be a veterinarian to qualify for membership.
RM: Exactly. Yeah.
MC: Okay. So is there a sliding scale for that cost of membership?
RM: There is. And so that’s one thing we really worked hard on is as we evolved. To give you an example, one of kind of the newer groups that we’re working a lot with is what we call the veterinary support group. And so these are the staff, these are individuals that might be hospital administrators, they might be educators—just any of kind of the alternative career paths in vet med that can join. And so there is a sliding scale. So for those types of individuals, we’re only charging the range range between $50 to $80. And then you got professional degrees and letters after your name, you probably have a decent job, so we unfortunately have to charge a little more. And that cost is around $150 to $180 for those individuals. It’s a twelve-month membership fee. And I think one unique thing is if you’re a student, we don’t charge. It’s free 99, as we like to say. So if you’re in pre-K, you’re still running around in diapers and you think you want to be a veterinarian, we’re not going to charge you, all the way up to if you say you’re a Ph.D. student or you’re getting an MPH. There’s a lot of other careers and pathways that are very influential and work closely with veterinarians. And so we want to be inclusive of those individuals as well.
MC: So regardless if you’re undergrad or professional student, there is no cost for membership.
RM: Yes, exactly. And that’s why we charge a little more, though, for the professional membership and our affiliates, so we don’t have to charge students. I understand sometimes things are pricey and being members of several organizations can definitely add up. The reason for that is it allows us to not charge that pipeline of future generations.
MC: So you have student chapters?
RM: We do have student chapters. Currently right now we have probably about seven or eight that are active, if I’m getting my numbers correct. We have about five that are coming down the pipeline; we’re working with the institutions now to develop those chapters. And our goal is to get to every veterinary school here in North America. So even going up to our neighbors up in Canada and working with those veterinary schools as well to get student chapters. And then obviously, a lot of those veterinary schools that have undergraduate, we want to get undergraduate chapters there at the institutions that have vet schools because it’s just a nice, easy way to help with pipeline building for these institutions and be able to partner and provide that support. And then the third area we’re focusing on is all the HBCUs—any historically black college or university that has biology, animal sciences, or pre-vet degrees. We want to get there and create a student chapter. So that’s what we’re working hard on; that’s one of our goals for this upcoming 2023 year.
MC: So if we have any listeners that are interested in joining, where can they go to find information?
RM: So if you just go to our website, www.NABVonline.org, all the information is there. Literally a button that says, I want to create a student chapter. You click that and it will give you a form you fill out, and the right individuals will reach out to you to help support that. We really like to work with the institutions, the universities, to make sure we’re also following their guidelines. So we usually advocate that they become an official club or school chapter to be registered with the institution. And we have templates for all that information to help students get that off the ground.
MC: And I’m also hearing that Krysten and I can be members?
RM: That’s correct. We would absolutely advocate for that.
MC: What types of programs, events, or initiatives are available to NABV members currently?
RM: So right now, we do have—so, say, for the practicing DVM who’s looking to buy and practice: With a lot of our partners, it awards members the opportunity to get connected with a lot of these groups that might buy your practice, might partner with you to purchase a practice. For example, Bank of America is one of our newer partners. So if you’re looking to try to get some discounted rates on those interests of loans and things like that, we’re hosting several workshops, webinars that are offered to members as well from a lot of our partners.
A third thing is for those that are seeking employment or are seeking to hire. We do have a job board. We have some directory as well, of membership. So for groups or individuals looking to connect. So it’s just that network as well that you have individuals, I think is a key thing for organization. And we’re constantly sending information out just on updates of what’s going on for those that want to do a little bit more outreach or mentorship. We have an active mentorship program for mentors and for mentees—so for that pre-vet student and also for that veterinarian looking to give back, there’s ways to get involved with that.
And one program that we’re looking at, we did it here at Ohio State in Columbus recently a few months ago, but it’s called Melanin and Medicine. It’s kind of one of your typical “vet for a day” programs that we targeted essentially BIPOC populations. We work with inner-city schools here in the Columbus area that have large populations of BIPOC students, brought them into the veterinary school and brought in guest speakers, brought into veterinarians, veterinary technicians and talked about the day in the life, different career opportunities, and they did a couple of wet labs. We’re looking to take to at least all the veterinary schools and institutions that we partner with already, just to get that exposure out there. We’re just trying to create exposure and create access for students that maybe didn’t have that or didn’t see that and then also seeing people who look like them have achieved that future goal that they might have. And it’s just paying it forward and really trying to find some innovative ways to help change and help with DEI initiatives for vet med.
MC: So you guys are doing a lot of cool things.
RM: There’s a lot going on. It’s all based on volunteers. It’s all based on membership. If we don’t have members, none of this happens. So we definitely ask for folks to join. And if you’re interested in joining a couple of committees, there’s information on the website on how to get involved in a variety of committees we offer.
MC: Approximately how many members do you guys currently have?
RM: The last number, I think it was around 175 range and growing. So again, we’re still a pretty young organization.
MC: Yeah. So just out of curiosity, how many members did you have when you first started?
RM: Like five. Because we were doing coming from the pipeline outreach activity, so it was just more students that weren’t technically members. It was just a group of individuals. And just to see it go from having 5 to 10 people to getting in the 100-plus range, it is pretty cool thing.
MC: Yeah, that’s pretty awesome.
Krysten Bennett: Being such a small organization, I imagine you need all the help you can get to raise awareness and accomplish your mission. Aside from what you’ve already mentioned, where do you need the most help from the community?
RM: We are constantly looking for mentors. That’s one thing I think you can’t have enough of. So joining our mentorship program— and you don’t have to be a veterinarian, because we have students that say, “Hey, I want to become a veterinary technician,” or “Hey, I want to be a hospital administrator.” So, we’re looking for some of those alternative career paths for that.
And then just new ideas. We kind of have a think tank group looking for what other avenues can we get into just to help the profession and open up doors. So for example, a big thing we’re looking at is scholarships. We try to identify those barriers, what are really keeping people out of these doors and when they’re in the doors, what can make their life kind of challenging? One thing we’d like to do is try to raise enough funds to be able to pay for their NAVLE. So one fee they don’t have to worry about; it is not a cheap test.
Another thing we’re really looking at to do is form partnerships. There’s a big need for specialists and just general helping teach at vet schools. All the faculty probably listen to this are probably like, “Yeah, we need some help. We need more specialists in our vet schools just helping.” And so how can we assist as an organization? It’s not a new concept, but there’s a lot of institutions that have created diversity-focused residency programs or internship programs. So being able to help create more of those as sponsorship, because those are ways that are very intentional. You’re calling it what you’re calling it, and we’re going to find BIPOC population students or individuals to fit these slots, train them, and to take it a step further and say, “Okay, we’re going to also employ them at our institution.” And it’s just a cycle, because then those individuals are teaching incoming students, prospective students see them in these roles, and it’s just helps create a pipeline. They want to give back, because you’ve poured so much into them.
So how do we create these type of programs? They all cost money, but they also cost people to help train and buy in. So, supporting veterinary schools to be able to do things like this—and the private sector can also do things like this; it doesn’t have to be at vet school. So being able to connect with partners, to think beyond—like we always say, thinking beyond the dollar. And those are type of things that really, we think help bring that sustainable long-term change. The donations are great, scholarships are cool, but how do you empower someone to give them tools like education and extra training? That’s going to really stem to other things and them going out community and doing great things.
MC: And I know you guys were impacted by COVID, so you had a couple of years off.
RM: Yeah. COVID definitely pushed things back. This is actually only our second conference. We’re still young.
MC: Can you share with us more about your conference, just dates, location, what can people expect?
RM: We’re excited to continue to partner with veterinary schools. We did a lot of work actually with LSU when we got off the ground, and Ohio State will be the first veterinary school we partner with to actually host a conference on a campus. And so that’s something we want to look to continue to do. So, for the future, if there’s any veterinary schools listening interested in partnering with us, we’d love to bring the conference to your doorsteps. Because we know that just brings in certain individuals and groups to have some really engaging conversations to change things.
The conference is June 17th through the 19th—so a three-day conference. Friday is going to be a student symposium. It’s geared for that pre-vet or current veterinary student that’s interested in just exploring the opportunities. So we have kind of the “what is the day like in the life of a veterinarian?” and we have some panel discussions, a variety of specialists, and also those that are like veterinary technicians, hospital administrators, to open the doors of just other career paths. Everybody doesn’t have to be a veterinarian. And then it’s the opening session.
Day two, that’s going to be more of a didactic lectures and some wet labs. We have a clinical and a non-clinical track, so there’ll be two simultaneous tracks running. We have probably close to 20-plus speakers that are participating, and it ranges from acupuncture-type talks and alternative medicine to surgery lectures to, “Hey, I want to get involved in organized veterinary medicine,” so some partners like AVMA are coming in, some of the state associations, to talk about how to get involved.
And then obviously we’ll have a nice vendor booth where we have several vendors from a variety of aspects of vet med coming in that I think attendees will really appreciate. Our goal is to we’re just trying to bring people to the table. We’re trying to bring all these different groups and just kind of be that beacon of just connecting the dots and connecting people. It’s kind of where we see our goal and our space in the profession.
The first conference, we had around 100 individuals. This conference probably expect around 150, 175 attendees. Those are members, non-members vendors, speakers. So we’re pretty excited right now what we’re seeing just with the engagement and excitement that’s coming from the community. We had our first conference, it was mainly a lot of DEI talk, which is critical, very important. But membership asked, “Hey, we’d like to also get some clinical talks and some more veterinary-related focused speakers.” So that’s what we have.
KB: What made you decide to host this national conference here in Ohio?
RM: I know we’re thankful that Ohio, as a whole, has been very supportive of our organization. I don’t know what it is about Ohio, but, I mean, from the vet school, the College there, to just the entire University, and the institutions here, like place I work. I mean, it’s just been a special to be able to have this second conference here I think is important. So that’s why I think it’s so important for OVMA to be there as well. So to showcase what the state is doing and opportunities for veterinarians and future veterinarians. “Hey, it’s okay to come here and work. It’s cold, but you can have a good life here. You got a lot of support.” So again, that’s kind of in our back of our heads. We plan the conference, and where we go, we just want to be able to help the entire city, the state, if we can, and other groups. Everybody can benefit. There’s no need for just one party benefiting everything.
KB: So you said that your first conference was heavily focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics. What DEI programming can attendees look forward to this year?
RM: One exciting thing we’re having is, we’re calling it the Dean’s Roundtable. So we invited all the black deans that are living—prior deans, current deans, new deans. There’s just been an announcement of a new African-American female Dean, Dr. Cartrell, at the Western University. So we’ve invited them to come for this roundtable discussion during lunch on Saturday. It’s such a difficult time traveling to get that many deans in one room with their schedules. We’re pretty excited. So that’s definitely a highlight for the conference—just to be able to hear their stories in a very just organic setting. I think it’s going to be really powerful for all attendees, just so much knowledge. I just don’t think we have enough time to really capture what we want to capture, but we’re going to try to do that.
Also, we’re doing the Power of Affinity Groups lecture on the Saturday. The time is slipping my mind, but we’re working with WVLDI and Pride VMC and a couple of other affinity groups, just to list a few, to talk about the power affinity groups and have a nice moderated dialogue.
KB: What kind of social and networking events will you be hosting?
RM: We’ll have some fun events, so on both nights, we’ll have opening networking sessions and some parties just to highlight Columbus. So anywhere we’re going, we want to make sure we do some community outreach in that city and just showcase what the city also has to offer for that area. We’re trying to also think beyond vet med. There are so many other, I think, untapped areas that we just haven’t touched. It’s our success and downfall veterinarians: We can be very Type A, very tunnel-vision. It makes us great, but sometimes we will miss great opportunities for not exploring other options. So that’s kind of our M.O. too as an organization: Be a little different.
And then on the Sunday, Juneteenth—you know this is Juneteenth weekend, we’ll always host our conference if possible during that Juneteenth celebration period—but we’re having a brunch in partnership with the Columbus Zoo. The Zoo has been gracious enough to help us with that activity, and we have the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Moore, who’s going to be our featured speaker. So, I think whatever you’re looking for, you can find that here at the conference. And we’re just really excited that it’s grown into what we’re seeing now.
MC: How can people register for this?
RM: Yeah. So again, everything we’ve tried to keep it simple, to put it all on the website. The first thing you’ll see is “register for the conference,” and that will take you to the landing page. We do have opportunities for vendors, so for companies looking to bring several people or you’d like to have a booth, we have that option, and then at no cost for students. But there’s a certain way we validate, so make sure you are a student—DVMs don’t try it! Don’t try to cheat the system!—and then obviously we have just like the regular membership fee. And we really worked hard with sponsorship to keep that fee at minimum for all the activities.
MC: Now, do you guys have standalone tickets for any of your individual events, like for the brunch or the networking event?
RM: Yes, they are. And for those special kind of one-offs, it’s just an email contact you just contact our coordinators for the conference, and we could set that up. We can send a direct invoice for whatever it is you’d like to sign up for.
KB: Is there a registration deadline for the conference?
RM: There is not. We will take you out the door. Because we get it. We understand people are busy and things happen, and you might have a late change and be like “Hey, I want to go check this out.” We consider ourselves a very laid-back organization and we’re trying to create that atmosphere at the conference that it’s going to be very relaxed. We’re just here to learn and connect and have a good time. Wellness is definitely a big part of what we try to incorporate into everything. So you don’t even have to dress up if you don’t want to. Honestly.
MC: Nice. And I just kind of want you to toot your own horn a little bit for the organization. So when we had talked previously, you mentioned that there are going to be several students that are coming that are coming on scholarship. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
RM: So, yeah, the last time I looked at our numbers, we have about 21 students from our student chapters that will be able to come to the conference at no cost, like for travel. And obviously, if you think about coming from any of the corners of the US, it’s probably about a good $1,500 to pay for just for three days of hotels and flights. And thanks to our sponsors, we’ve been able to make that happen. We just got some more sponsorships, and so we’re looking to be able to provide that to some more students. Because we know, we’re looking at them getting future jobs, future internships, future residencies. It’s just that inspiration that we know that’s going to be really impactful for that pipeline building. It’s bringing students to Ohio State’s campus, to their veterinary college, for those prospective students and those undergraduates. And we are reaching out to as many of the high school and elementary schools here in the greater Columbus area, the greater Midwest, to bring them as well.
It’s kind of a catch all. We see that this really helps not only our organization, obviously, but really, we’re here to just help our partners, help the veterinary schools be able to get more diverse populations in their doors and then have these conversations on, when they’re in your doors, how do you support them. And then the next step is when they graduate, how do you continue to support them, how’s the community support BIPOC populations, especially on blacks in vet med. So we’re going to have a talk on how do you—we’re collecting data as we speak on this, on how do you become an effective ally for blacks in vet med. So it’s a survey looking at students, survey looking for technicians, for veterinarians. We’re collecting information from membership and our partners. So I think that’s going to be some really good conversation and information from that sounds like ignorant.
MC: So it sounds like, once again, you guys are doing some incredible and impactful work. I know that it’s rapidly approaching, but are there still opportunities for partnership and sponsors for the conference?
RM: Absolutely. There’s a become a sponsor button on the website. You click that button, it’s a form you fill out, and we’ll reach out to you. Usually we try to get connected and get a meeting set up within 24-48 hours from that. And there’s more than financial contributions that sponsors can do for us: If it’s lecture, or if it’s as simple as, “Hey, we want to create opportunities for students to come into our clinic doors or into our facility.” We always challenge our sponsors and partners to think beyond that financial component. We’ll never turn that away. But we like to set up MoUs and things to hold us accountable for what the expectations are for both sides of the party. And a lot of that, a lot of times it’s more activities. What are we going to do to do some actual real work to make some change about what’s going on in the profession?
KB: Does NABV attend other conferences? I’m thinking specifically Midwest Veterinary Conference. Having you guys in the exhibit hall would be awesome.
RM: We would love to. And that’s something we’re starting to do a lot more of now. There’s so many other affinity groups out there doing great things, and so we definitely are part of all the working groups coalitions that try to go to different meetings. So we would love to be at Midwest and have a booth. If that opportunity is there, we’ll be there. We would like to definitely partner and be able to bring our organization to the conference and just showcase what we can do.
MC: I am curious, as the current president, what do you hope to achieve during your time as the organization’s leader?
RM: Just continue to pay it forward. I always share with people, I would not be in the position I’m in now or even be a veterinarian if it wasn’t for having that network and mentorship of people helping to create programs such as this for me. And so, it’s kind of a life mission of mine to continue to keep that going for the next generation, but also not forgetting about the DVMs that have gone through it. I think sometimes when we do a lot of the pipeline building, we forget about those DVMs and also technical support staff—those that are just as vital, who are working in our hospitals, working in our research centers, wherever it might be. So that’s been my mission. My M.O. is just trying to continue to give back and lay some real sustainable programs that can stand the test of time to really do some help, get people access to vet school or vet tech school, because it’s just such a life-changing experience. It has been for me, and I just want to share this profession we all love so much with the next generation. I’m still to this day getting that comment: “You’re the first black veterinarian I’ve ever met.” And it’s 2022! That’s just a reminder that, yeah, we still need to continue. There’s more work to be done.
KB: Is the presidency term one year?
RM: One-year term. My wife probably is thankful for that. Dr. Star Robertson, she is the president-elect and she’ll be taking over during the conference. She’s phenomenal. She’s going to take this organization to new heights.
KB: Well, if you’re ever looking for a new volunteer position or if you’re bored one day—which I’m sure happens all the time, right?
RM: Oh, yeah, I wish for that problem.
KB: We need to get you on our board next.
RM: Like I said, I kind of have put my life in a situation where I want to focus on helping give back because, again, I would not be here. And it’s really interesting: I was looking at the list for the Dean’s Roundtable, and pretty much all those individuals have somehow reached out; I’ve connected to them in some way. It’s just that power of, really, them pouring into students in that pipeline building and how things just come full circle. I’ve just seen those types of things work in my own life, so I know they do work and the type of programs that they’ve all created. So that’s kind of my charge for myself to continue that legacy.
MC: Nice. Well, thank you for being here. You guys are doing some incredible and impactful work.
RM: My pleasure.