In 2001 Disney introduced the world to The Proud Family, a cartoon centered on an African American family; headed by Oscar, a snack manufacturer and Trudy, a veterinarian. During the show’s air, two African American women from Louisiana were working towards becoming veterinarians. Something they said they never dreamed of, mostly because of its lack of representation in the black community, especially in Louisiana.
Fast forward to 2012, and Disney once again brings us an inspirational show for black girls with Doc McStuffins. The series, which is in its second season, shows a brown cartoon girl playing make-believe veterinarian, operating on her stuffed animals. The show is wildly popular and has lots of girls desiring to become veterinarians.
Now reality, Louisiana, which is the 25th most populous state of the union, is home to only six black, female veterinarians. All of the women completed her undergraduate studies at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge and received her D.V.M. from the School of Veterinarian Medicine at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Three of the women are practicing veterinarians, one of them is in academia and two of them work for the government.
An avid fan of Doc McStuffins and veterinarian hopeful, nine-year-old Samiya J. Phillips said she has been interested in treating animals since she was three. She said she learns from the cartoon, but wishes she could go on field trips and ask real life vets questions and see more women working as vets.
“I think there should be more girls that take care of animals, because you really have to have caring heart , Phillips said. “Maybe there should be more schools to teach you more about being a veterinarian and field trips [so I can] ask a lot of questions on how they take care of animals and what kind of tools [are used] for animals.”
Renita Woods Marshall, D.V.M. has been an associate professor of animal science at SUBR and the SU Ag Center resident veterinarian for six years. She said she always knew she wanted to become a doctor, but never dreamed she’d be a veterinarian, or a professor. Marshall, who grew up in rural Pelican, said she has always been around animals and agriculture. She decided to bring her degree home to work so she could help build the future of veterinarians in Louisiana, in particularly to inspire girls like Phillips.
“I could have gone anywhere, but I decided to come back here and work in academia, and I look at as somebody made the sacrifice for me; somebody was teaching me, so I felt like I could come back and give to the next generation that’s coming in behind me,” Marshall said. “I’m so proud because two of my students are in veterinarian school right now and I have another one that’s getting ready to go next year. It makes me feel good to see that I’m training them up.”
Marshall said she encourages her students to come back to Louisiana upon graduating from veterinarian school, in hopes of increasing the number of black, female veterinarians in this state. Two of her three vet school students are black females.
“They’ve [former students] thought about coming back and they’re all from Louisiana,” Marshall said. “They’ve been in vet school for a couple of weeks and one of the courses is introduction to veterinarian medicine, and that’s exposing them to all the different fields that go along with it. And, a lot of them are like ‘you know, I may end up working at a university’ and I say ‘see, you just never know!’”
Another one of Louisiana’s Doc McStuffins is Tyra Davis. Davis is from New Iberia and grew up around farms. While she said she never planned to become a veterinarian, she said she believes strongly in the phrase bloom where you are planted. She has now been a medical director and veterinarian at Hammond Animal Hospital and Pet Lodge for ten years.
“I grew up in a rural area and my family was sugarcane farmers so I spent a lot of time on the farm, but never did I have the desire to become a vet because I never saw a black veterinarian,” Davis said.
Upon graduating from high school with a very high GPA, Davis was offered a scholarship to attend SUBR. When choosing a major, she was encouraged to pursue animal science and found that she enjoyed the classes. After a summer internship at the University of Missouri, she was sold on becoming a veterinarian. Now with the success of Doc McStuffins, she said she’s proud to see a show with the interest of inspiring young girls to start asking questions about the pursuit of careers in medicine.
“When I grew up, I didn’t know any veterinarians who looked like me, let alone a woman veterinarian; I didn’t even have a woman pediatrician,” Davis said. “It just goes to show you how far we’ve come. It’s good for young girls in general, but especially African American girls to have a positive image and something to open the conversation about a profession, and especially about my profession.”
Both Marshall and Davis agreed that it is important to encourage youth who are interested in becoming veterinarians and said they recommend Louisiana students look into undergraduate studies at LSU or SUBR because of the very hands-on approach offered. Both women also give lots back to their community through organizational memberships, speaking engagements and mentoring. They make it known how important they feel it to be for students to bring their degrees back home, as they, along with Tasha Thomas, Evoicia Collins, Leah LeBouf and Andrea Poole, the other Louisiana’s Doc McStuffins, look forward to the number of black, female veterinarians in the state to increase.