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The importance of BAME role models- and role modelling- in the veterinary profession

28 Oct 2021 | Amber Cordice

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For Black History Month, Harper and Keele first-year vet school student Amber Cordice shares insights into her journey into veterinary medicine and why it’s important for young voices of all ethnic backgrounds to be heard as well as represented.

The importance of BAME role models- and role modelling- in the veterinary profession Image

‘Amber Cordice – BSc Zoology’: not a title I thought I’d have yet here it is, and through all the sleepless nights and tea breaks, it was worth it.

My route into veterinary medicine has not been the easiest and has been exceptionally stressful. But despite my social circumstances – I’m a mixed-race woman from a working-class background in a neighbourhood with a low rate of progression to higher education- I was determined.

I have a passion for working with animals and am fascinated by their physiology and welfare. I have always loved science too, especially biology. Being a hands-on person and fond of creating art, I wanted a career that had both practical and academic elements and one in which I could continuously learn and progress.

I was rejected by all four vet schools that I initially applied to. I was devastated. One of the universities offered me a place for animal science, which I accepted. Then my A-level results arrived. I didn’t get my predicted grades and marginally missed the requirements for that too. I found myself going to Anglia Ruskin University through clearing to study zoology and revised my plans. I decided that after my first degree I would apply to study veterinary medicine through the graduate entry route. I worked throughout my degree and salvaged as much savings as I could to help fund my second degree as you get no help with tuition fees.

Realising my dream

Here I am now at Harper and Keele Vet School, pinching myself every day because I have finally made it. The endless hours studying and mucking out pigs, sheep and cattle was for this moment, and I made some brilliant memories at the farm. The owners never looked at me as different; they only saw me for who I was and my work ethic and for that I will be forever grateful. I think you only ever subconsciously see how unrepresentative the vet profession and adjacent fields are. It’s not until you take a step back that you realise. I was very surprised when I found out one of my veterinary lecturers was black; having been on many veterinary placements, vet interviews and seminars, it felt reassuring to know I was not alone.

If I had got in first time, I would have never done the following:

  • Met my bestest friends for life 
  • Joined The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) and been one of the only undergraduates to present their research at the ASAB summer conference
  • Learnt new skills and techniques in biology, technology, stats 
  • Learnt about various species and zoological fields 
  • Made contacts within various biological specialists and vet/zoological bodies 

Zoology was filled with some amazing modules, such as: parasitology, wildlife conservation, animal behaviour, animal health. It gave me a great foundation for starting a vet degree.

Setting an example for the next generation of vets

My advice to young aspiring black/ethnic minority students is to never give up and carry on despite what people may think. Let people underestimate you and be taken by surprise when they see what you can achieve with only the clothes on your back and determination. You are making history by role modelling, breaking boundaries, and setting an example for the next generation of vets, as well as making the profession a more diverse space. It is important that we reach a point where it no longer must be a conversation and is common practice. Until then, it is crucial that young voices of all ethnic backgrounds are heard as well as represented. Opportunities should be given on academic merit and personal attributes. It is known that minority ethnic groups are more likely to live in deprived areas. This puts students at a disadvantage and usually means less opportunity, support, and encouragement from teachers who do not necessarily expect students in these areas to get into courses like veterinary medicine.

I remember being discouraged from applying to veterinary medicine during my A-levels because I had to re-sit my GCSE maths (I received a C). I retook it whilst I had my A-level mocks and achieved an A. I started planning my Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) a year in advance as I had got inspiration from a brilliant vet I met during my ongoing work experience at a Meopham Vets. I still keep in touch with the team now!

Discouragement from applying to veterinary medicine seems to be a regular occurrence for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and borderline grades. I am glad I applied as it made me more resilient and helped me in being able to handle rejection and setbacks. Yes, it is competitive – however, my advice is you have nothing to lose, and you only regret the opportunities you do not take.

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