In Canada, the theme for February’s Black History Month 2024 is Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build. VetStrategy is taking part by spotlighting the unique journeys of a number of our Black colleagues across our network.

We sat down with Taunton Road Animal Hospital’s Practice Manager Nadine Wells, Royal York Animal Hospital RVT Denise Woonsam, and Disability and Absence Management Coordinator Rose-Aimée Eholié to learn more about their professional journeys, how their culture has played a role in their career and advice they would offer Black youth interested in a role in animal health.

Who were your role models growing up and how did they influence who you are today?

Rose-Aimée: “It sounds so cliché to say, but growing up my role mother was my mother, and it is still the case. She is a great example of resilience, and she taught me that everything is within my reach if the will is there. She raised six children alone, in countries that were foreign to her, as my father was constantly travelling because of his job.”

Tell us about your journey to the role you’re in today.

Denise: “When I was starting in the field, there wasn’t a lot of Black people. I was one of the only token Black people at the conferences. It’s nice to see how the industry has grown since then. I followed my heart and my passion. I didn’t care if I was the only Black person. I looked at people such as Oprah; I tried to be like them and stand strong in what I believed in.”

Has your culture played a role in the trajectory of your career?

Rose-Aimée: “Definitely! I spent my childhood travelling around West African countries (Ghana, Togo) and France because of my father’s job. I am originally from Cote-D’Ivoire but did not grew up in my country. My culture has been shaped by all these countries since I was only 8 when we moved. Constant adaptation and different realities have shaped my personality. Dealing with different people gave me an open mind which I think is so essential when working in HR.”

Do you have any advice for young Black youth interested in a career in animal health?

Nadine: “It is hard when you’re in a field where you don’t see very many people who look like you. What I would say to other Black people, especially the youth is this: Have self-love and don’t allow being a minority to stand in your way. Even if you do not see anyone that looks like you in RVT school or in the clinic, that’s okay. Appreciate that you are bringing a different perspective and set of skills. Be a trailblazer.”

What does Black History Month mean for you?

Nadine: “It’s a time to reflect and be grateful for the freedom that we have,” she said. “It’s also a time to educate ourselves and learn about lesser-known stories. I’m always astounded to learn about certain names and what they did to impact history and move us forward in a positive way.”

Denise: “It’s a celebration of achievements,” she said. “It’s a reminder to keep an open forum that everyone can learn from, to persevere in different fields, or to follow suit and try out different things.”

Thank you to Rose-Aimée, Denise, and Nadine for sharing your perspectives and journeys with us!

VetStrategy is committed to supporting Black History Month and the community year-round through initiatives such as our Diversity Bursary, which supports Canadian veterinary students. We also support organizations like the Black Veterinary Association of Canada (BVAC), an organization founded in 2020 as the unified voice of Canada’s Black veterinary community. Recently, we co-sponsored a bursary supporting Black youth interested in a career in animal health. Check out the plaque presentations to these six deserving students on the BVAC website.

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