Yes, Black veterinarians exist. And some are LGBTQ+. Meet Christopher Inniss.
Growing up in the Caribbean nation of British Guyana, Christopher Inniss, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Area Chief of Staff at Banfield Pet Hospital in Lawrenceville, GA, had no blueprint for a career in his chosen field. Of the veterinarians he was exposed to, not a single one matched the reflection he saw when he looked in the mirror. Now decades later, Inniss is becoming a role model for aspiring veterinarians during a crucial time when there is an industry shortage and an even greater shortage of Black veterinarian students and professionals.
Of the more than 104,000 veterinarians in the nation, nearly 90% are white, less than 2% are Hispanic and almost none are Black, according to 2019 BLS figures.
“It’s a problem in the United States. Everyone is looking for vets. There’s not enough,” says Inniss. “Tuskegee [University] is the only accredited College of Veterinary Medicine on a Historically Black College [and University] campus. It’s the only HBCU that provides 80 to 90% of the Black veterinarians in the United States from one school,” he adds.
Inniss was one of those students in Tuskegee's renowned veterinary medicine program after immigrating to the United States in the early 90s—a move that proved to be beneficial professionally despite the initial culture shock.
“I arrived at that little exit in a rural part of Alabama,” says Inniss. “That is not what you see,” he says jokingly as he recalls researching images of America before leaving for college.
But what he expected, and what Inniss says Tuskegee University provided, was a rigorous program that helped prepare him for his future. Today, that program is even more competitive than when he was a student.
“For Tuskegee alone, they only accept 65 students every year. They get 800+ applications a year,” he says.
This is one reason Inniss tells The Reckoning he is reaching back to mentor students in Tuskegee's veterinary medicine program, and to ensure that his profession is a viable career option that remains diverse. But his influence doesn’t begin and end at the collegiate level.
Through social media, parents have requested his mentorship for their teenage children who have expressed an interest in veterinary medicine.
“It's a matter of finding someone you're comfortable asking about the process,” he says. “You don't just graduate high school and go to vet school.”
According to Inniss, a barrier for many aspiring Black veterinary students is the required experience to be considered for admission into veterinary programs, which they often lack. This is where Inniss says he gladly steps in.
“All of them require some sort of work history, even if it's a volunteer opportunity. I write letters recommending these students. Anything that will give you a foot up if I know that you'll be a good veterinarian,” he says. “Even now, I still get, ‘I didn't know there were Black veterinarians.’ We're in 2021 and that mindset is still out there, which is unfortunate,” says Inniss.
It’s this mindset that fuels his passion for being visible at Banfield and beyond as a successful Black veterinarian who is also gay, married, and the father of a son.
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