Today's Veterinary Business

FEB 2018

Today’s Veterinary Business provides information and resources designed to help veterinarians and office management improve the financial performance of their practices, allowing them to increase the level of patient care and client service.

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45 February/March 2018 • TODAYSVETERINARYBUSINESS.COM with working or studying hard. It has to do with all the things in the background that make working or studying hard pay off more for some and not others. Privilege in Conflict In my work with veterinary students, this is the time I usually experience a bit of pushback about acknowledg- ing systemic privilege. I hear, "But I'm not privileged. I have worked hard for everything I have and ev- erything I've accomplished!" There is no debate about this at the micro level. None. Veterinary students have spent years prepar- ing to apply to veterinary school. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges reports that the average student spends years acquiring nearly 2,000 hours of animal, veterinary and research experience and nearly 4½ years of undergraduate studies earning a mean grade-point average of 3.6 in the run-up to the application. Vet- erinary students work very hard to be admitted to veterinary school. When it comes to under- standing privilege, thinking about privilege at the macro level is critical. Viewing veterinary school prepara- tion from a broader perspective, we are forced to acknowledge the wide disparity of quality in K-12 education that affects a prospective student's choice in rigorous undergraduate universities and how that in turn may shape their path to admittance. We also can consider how little choice prospective students have in their initial state of residence, wheth- er they are in a state with a college of veterinary medicine or must consider relocating to establish resi- dency for cost reasons. The origin of the dilemma is triggered by chance of birth or parental choice. During our conflicted discus- sions about privilege and who has it, I encourage students to explore the concept of rankism. Rankism is a term coined by Dr. Robert Fuller, former president of Oberlin College. Fuller describes rankism as how individuals do not see person- al privilege but how we all inadver- tently abuse privilege in asserting some kind of superiority over others. Fuller distills this concept into the Somebodies with privilege and the Nobodies who are at risk for privilege abuse. In fact, rankism is considered the mother of all -isms because of the way identity privilege shapes how people inter- act without regard for individual dignity. At its worst, rankism is seen in racism, sexism, homophobia and other belief systems that are reliant on an inherent belief about a domi- nant group's supremacy. Privilege in the Profession To demonstrate privilege and rank- ism, I often have students explore the Somebodies and Nobodies in the veterinary profession based on their exposure to the profes- sion while preparing for school and during their time in veterinary school. The veterinary profession is a system with its own dominant cul- ture, cultural norms and key players. As such, for numerous reasons there are members of the profession who are more privileged than others. Students often note that veteri- nary specialists and corporate prac- tices are Somebodies, wielding sig- nificant privilege and power within the profession. They frequently note that some kinds of clients are Somebodies (those owning very valuable animals), while others are Nobodies (those with little resources to meet Diversity Toolbox columnist Dr. Lisa M. Greenhill is senior director for institutional research and diversity at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. the standard of care desired for their animals). Invariably, students see themselves as Nobodies in the profession, with assumptions being made about their competence, confidence and what they hope to do with their veterinary degrees. Someone always asks whether having "just" a DVM will afford them enough privilege to be a Somebody in the profession at some point. It is at this point that I explain privilege is not always permanent; based on a particular attribute or identity, individuals might find they have it while other times they might not. For example, prospec- tive veterinary students already see students as Somebodies, and stu- dents become Somebodies when they become veterinarians. Simi- larly, there may be circumstances when members of a dominant social group can find themselves in unique systems where they are the minority and subject to privilege exercised by other groups through cultural, social or legal norms. So What? Your practice is a system, and folks within the system have varying degrees of privilege. This isn't in- herently a bad thing. Someone has to be in charge, right? Of course. However, if we are not mindful and deliberate, privilege and rankism can be abused in ways that, at the local level, can result in toxic work environments with rank problems such as, but not limited to, inequi- table pay, unfair scheduling, and clients with animals with unmet needs. These are not productive environments. Somebody in your practice environment — whether employee or client — will feel like a Nobody. Fuller argues that the only anti- dote to rankism is dignity, or every individual's right to be worthy of being treated equally and well. This is easy enough, right? Sure! Ensuring that policies and practices are developed with dignity as a core value for all members of your team and all potential clients will help create a system that eschews the conflicts that follow the abuse of privilege and rankism. A com- mitment to dignity as a core value should guide personal interactions, which creates space for improved engagement, learning and un- derstanding. This can only lead to better medicine and a better life for you, your clients and their animals. We are all products of our environment. That shapes our worldview, including how we do business. Understanding how privi- lege operates in society, how it can be used and abused in rankism, and how to disrupt our systemic privilege issues will improve your practice and your outlook on life. To learn more about privilege and rankism, be sure to visit Fuller's website: www.breakingranks.net. During our conflicted discussions about privilege and who has it, I encourage students to explore the concept of rankism.

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