Working with Underserved/Marginalized/Low SES Populations

In my post giving about advice on how to maximize your time during vet school for success, I mentioned getting time working with underserved/marginalized/low socioeconomic status (UML for the purposes of this article) groups.  One of my editors said, “Why?” I thought that was a great question and deserved its own article.

As always, this is my personal opinion, but influenced significantly by many years of discussing applicants for positions in academic veterinary medicine.  Although unlikely, it is possible there are evaluators out there who would look down on an applicant who worked with UML groups. In reality, it is at worst neutral, and at best a tick in your positive column.  There are a few reasons this experience is seen positively.

1) Perspective.  Veterinary medicine requires working with a dynamic range of people.  Your staff, clients, others doctors- people come from all sorts of different backgrounds and places.  If you have worked with diverse groups of people in the past, you are at least aware of them and may be better prepared to work with them in the future.

2) Humility.  I hope that people who work with UML groups realize how amazing their life is and appreciate their great life.  I believe it is a humbling experience to work with those who have very little, and to see they can still enjoy their life and have human experiences.  Humility is incredibly important to me when looking at people who would be good in a team.

3) Adventurousness.  The willingness to work with UML groups indicates that you have a certain character of boldness which is often sought in leaders (which all veterinarians are by dint of their profession).  If you are willing to go outside your comfort zone, I have greater confidence that you will leave where you have lived, go across the country, and be in a new position somewhere you have never even visited.

4) Diversity.  Veterinary medicine is dominated by white women.  Diversity is a problem in our field.  Having some experience with other populations may reflect well on you for those who are interested in fostering diversity and the awareness of the importance thereof.

5) Stories.  Possibly the most important aspect of dealing with these communities is you can share what you learned in your letter of intent and during interviews.  These create opportunities for you to share an interesting, unique experience and what you took from it. That helps create a persona for you in letters and interviews which evaluators may remember better than a generic applicant.

It is not an essential requirement, but having the chance to work with diverse populations may improve your application.  I believe it is helpful for all applicants to have worked with UML groups, but this may not be a universal belief. What do you think?  Does this add to an application?

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