Janika Patel

Janika Patel BVM BVS MRCVS, is a veterinary surgeon and representative of the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS). She was born and raised in South London and was inspired by her uncle in America to embark on a career in veterinary medicine. She graduated from University of Nottingham in 2017 and has worked in a mix of independent and corporate small animal practices. She is currently working as a Locum vet. During the pandemic, she set up an Instagram page @janikathevet  with the aim of inspiring people of colour to pursue a career in the veterinary field. She also works with BVEDS to support ethnic minorities in the profession and is a member of the Veterinary Woman editorial board. 

Thanks for agreeing to talk to us Janika. What motivated you to reach out to encourage other people of colour to explore a veterinary career?  

During lockdown, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my veterinary journey. I also became interested in the experiences that people of colour have in society, especially in the wake of the BLM movement. In my reflections, I noticed how I came across very few people of colour in the veterinary sector and the various incidences of racism, micro-aggression and discrimination faced as a student and as a vet. At the time of experiencing these issues, I either brushed it under the carpet or didn’t fully realise what was being said or implied. There was also an element of fear I had for being ostracised or belittled if I called people out on making discriminatory comments, which meant I would never talk about the discrimination I faced. 

I wanted to start a platform where, as well as acting as a diary for my life as a vet, I could inspire people who look like me to join the profession. I also wanted to highlight what additional issues BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) people face in being part of one of the least diverse professions in the UK. If I can inspire at least one person who looks like me to become a part of this profession and to be brave enough to speak up if they experience any form of discrimination, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do. 

“If I can inspire at least one person who looks like me to become a part of this profession and to be brave enough to speak up if they experience any form of discrimination, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.” 

Can you tell us more about BVEDS as a group and what they do? 

Dr Tshidi Gardiner delivering Active Allyship Training at conferences in partnership with BVCIS and BVLGBT+

BVEDS (British Veterinary Equality and Diversity Society) is a group co-founded by two vets, Issa Robson and Navaratnam (aka Theeb) Partheeban in 2016 to primarily act as a support network for BAME people in the veterinary profession. They provide a variety of resources and peer support to the veterinary BAME community via their website and on social media pages.  

They also provide diversity and inclusion training to companies and at conferences with other allied groups (such as their Active Allyship Workshops and the Diversity and Inclusion discussion panels). In 2020 they started the Courageous Conversations conference in collaboration with University of Surrey which discussed topics such as neurodiversity, decolonisation and GRT (Gypsy, Roma, Traveller) Inclusivity in Veterinary Education. In 2021, BVEDS authored a module on Race and the Veterinary Profession which is now part of the veterinary curriculum at University of Nottingham.

How are BVEDS working to achieve their aims? 

Currently BVEDS are working on a number of new projects to help support BAME people and encourage diversity within the profession. 

Issa is in the process of authoring a book about race discrimination within the profession. As the Oxford Farming Conference Director, Theeb has founded the Breaking Barriers Scholarship in partnership with McDonald’s which has been running for the past 3 years. The scholarship has provided 5 scholars who identify as BPOC (Black or Person of Colour) under the age of 30 and have an interest in the food, farming and agricultural sector with resources, mentorship and other forms of support to help them excel within the agricultural sector.  

The 2023 Oxford Farming Conference Scholars with OFC Director and BVEDS Co-founder Navaratnam Partheeban

The team at BVEDS also are involved in various different research projects in association with other veterinary groups. For example, they are working with RVC and RCVS’s Mind Matters Initiative this year to run the largest survey on the experiences of racism and the mental wellbeing impacts it has on BAME people in the UK veterinary sector. They are also part of BVA’s Good Workplace Group. 

What is it like being part of BVEDS and how can others get involved? 

It’s a fulfilling experience seeing what BVEDS has achieved since their inception and all the projects they have lined up. The team are passionate to educate people about diversity and inclusion within the profession and are happy to speak to anyone that needs help or support. As the work is voluntary, BVEDS are always looking for help wherever they can, be it with helping to run courses at conferences, to providing support to the BAME community. If you have any ideas or want to help out in upcoming projects, please do visit the website and send us an email. 

What can practices and individuals do to support diversity and promote an inclusive culture? 

A good starting point would be to put into place zero tolerance policies regarding discrimination and racism in practices and implementing them. It’s worth going through some examples of discrimination faced in practice with your team and how to properly deal with these incidences. It is important to highlight the avenues of reporting incidences of discrimination and to ensure action is being taken to reduce reoccurrence. Being aware of one’s biases and privilege is also very important when supporting colleagues that have experienced discrimination. Remember that just because you may not have experienced that particular form of discrimination, does not mean it does not exist or matter. 

How do you feel that the veterinary profession could encourage the development of a more diverse workforce?   

One good step would be to roll out the University of Nottingham’s ‘Race and the Veterinary Profession’ course to all the other universities in the UK. It would also be great to see similar, more in-depth courses being rolled out as part of continuous professional development for all vets and nurses. Having visible role models in practice and representing the veterinary profession is also very important in encouraging the next generation.

Continuation of research projects by big groups in the profession such as BVA, RCVS, BEVA, BCVA and BSAVA to raise awareness is key in a broad sense, but there are smaller things that can be done by these big groups to really show action. I think we should have more guided support to foreign BAME vets aspiring to join the UK veterinary profession – for example the RCVS should provide reusable PPE for exams rather than expecting foreign vets to have to purchase their own and travel with them to exams in the UK.

“The people who are owners and clients are becoming increasingly diverse so we should reflect this in our workforce.”

What is your vision of how the profession could develop positively in future and how this would make a difference? 

I believe that one of the solutions to help the recruitment and retention crisis is to improve diversity within the profession. The people who are owners and clients are becoming increasingly diverse so we should reflect this in our workforce. I can see us achieving this by raising awareness of the current lack of diversity and how issues such as racism, bias and micro-aggressions can affect people of colour, as well as encouraging more BAME people to join the profession.

What do you enjoy most about working in the veterinary profession? 

I love how no two days are the same. The variety of cases, animals and people that I come across as a small animal first opinion vet really excites me. One day I could be dealing with a major surgical emergency, the next I could be seeing a fox, hedgehog and bird all the in same day. It does astound me when I stop and think about the variety of skills that vets, nurses and support staff develop in this profession! 

What career challenges have you learned the most from and do you have any advice you would like to share with other veterinary women? 

I suffered from imposter syndrome quite badly at the beginning of my career. There are still days where I grapple with it but there was a time where I wanted to quit the profession completely. I felt I did not know anything, that I was a fraud and was not good enough to be a vet. My advice to women who have similar feelings is to reach out for help as these things you say to yourself are not true! We all can be our own worst enemy but remember the good times of your job, the animal lives you have saved and the human lives you have enriched.  

If you would like to find out more about BVEDS and supporting diversity in the veterinary professions, please visit the BVEDS website: https://bveds.com

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