World Veterinary Association (WVA), an international representative body of veterinary associations and organisations, highlights the veterinary field and promotes realisation that animals and man lives are interconnected. On behalf of its member organizations, WVA works with the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Organization for Animal Health (previously known as OIE) and others to further the interest of ‘One Health’. Among various initiatives and activities, every year WVA proposes a theme to celebrate the World Veterinary Day (WVD) on the last Saturday of April. The day is celebrated by all the Vets across the globe with the intention to focus-on and highlight the lacunas that the system has to offer to the veterinarians (Vets). As every profession has its limitations, so is the case with the veterinary profession. Vets are expected to be highly flexible and resilient professionals to offer multifaceted and quite innovative services considering nature and diversity of clientele. Vet professionals are not only responsible for healthcare management of the animals but also for boosting the economy, minimizing greenhouse emission with simultaneous enhancement in the animal production to meet growing food crises, and to promote human health through disease-free animals and by conducting translational research. Last year WVD was themed to focus towards the resilience of the Vets considering the nature of the profession and its work culture.
WVD-2023 focusses to highlight the need for bringing diversity in the profession with equity and inclusivity of all its professionals. In the developed countries like UK and USA, lack of the diversity, equity and inclusivity (DEI) is often reported in the Veterinary profession and more commonly against the backdrop of ethnicity and gender/ sexuality. In the early 2000’s, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education declared the ‘Vet profession as the most segregated field in graduate education’. This was further broadened by an article published a decade later in The Atlantic that labelled the profession as the “Whitest in America”. In these countries, a gap exists among the people of different ethnicities and this deters the effective functioning of the system and thereby the professional outcome. Add-on the profession has recruitment issues as low-income people fail to bear the education expenses. In our system, may be ethnic and sexuality factors might not exist to that extent but many other factors do exist in our system making the situation grimmer. Previously, males would only make it to the vet profession, however, change in recruitment pattern especially in J&K has made it possible for females to make it to the vet profession. In our system, the problem lies more with the system set-up rather than among the individual Vet professionals. This write-up briefs over the general issues of the Vet profession with special focus towards the clinical aspect vis-à-vis Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness (DEI).
The selection of the Vet graduates at entry level itself remains the least diverse as compared to other professions. The graduates for the Vet profession are not selected at the national level by the national testing agency (NTA) through exams like NEET or JEE conducted for human medicine and engineering. Most of the recruitment occurs through the state University entrance test (UET) with some seats left for the Veterinary Council of India. This creates a barrier against the diversity within the universities as students from the same area or region are selected. However, in our system the positive point against the developed nations is that seats are reserved for the low income or socially backward classes and the fee structure is not that expensive. Further, the financial help for education is also provided to the economically weaker students. To bring diversity and excellent minds to the profession, exams like NEET may keep an option for the biology students to opt for the Vet profession.
Furthermore, for enhanced ethnic diversity it is imperative to make way for the foreign students in the Indian universities. This can be done through cross border advertisements, intergovernmental programs and above all by improving the teaching and learning in our institutes to match the international standards. Among different Vet/ agriculture institutes across the nation, SKUAST-K leads at front in inviting students from different countries towards the Vet profession. Recently, an international education fair was conducted by the university jointly with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in Sushma Swaraj Bhavan, New Delhi, India to woo students across nations, both developed and developing ones. The event was attended by ambassadors, and education attaches of various countries. The fair showed a Vet faculty documentary that highlighted the achievements of the faculty. It also featured a brochure that not only detailed the courses offered but also highlighted the aims, mission and goals of the faculty. Additionally, SKUAST-K offers the ‘dual degree master’s programme with the international reputed institutes’ and is aiming to provide ‘degree by design’ that can make students more attracted towards the profession. However, the improvement in the standard of clinical services and research activities, besides teaching, remains unparalleled to actually fetch the foreign students into our institutes. Furthermore, profession specific scholarships, mentorships and promotion of student friendly environments in the institutes can help bring diversity in the vet profession.
In our system, a major drawback remains the lack of social acceptance (equity) of the profession to the level of knowledge and services that Vets are capable of offering. This lacuna exists due to the system under which the profession operates. The standard of Vet profession remains to be achieved as the apex body (Veterinary Council of India, VCI) rules and regulations are not being followed in-toto. The infrastructural facilities and manpower and the student intake capacity that are interdependent does not exist in our institutes as per VCI norms. Further, the basic infrastructure required for teaching veterinary para-clinical or clinical subjects is often unmet. VCI regulations remain partially implemented that undermines the sanctity of the profession and its deliverance in our system. In human medicine, Medical Council of India (MCI) regulations are strictly followed and student seats are increased or decreased as per the availability of infrastructure and manpower facilities.
Apart from the teaching institutes, there is a lack of basic facilities (diagnostic and therapeutic) that could cater to the needs of the ailing animals in the centres running under development departments. The buildings are hired ones that lack dedicated OPDs, clinical labs, imaging sections and OTs. The polyclinic type facilities that could provide holistic diagnostic and therapeutic services are very much lacking in India, in general and specifically, in J&K. Vets often perform clinical procedures in the open and this undermines the sanctity of the profession. In recent times various schemes are being aimed in J&K to create facilities especially diagnostics and production-related that could be state-of-art. However, related to therapeutics, upgradation steps are currently unavailable whether for infrastructure development or its operationalization. In foreign countries such basic infrastructure and its operation is not undermined and is given highest priority. This makes the Vet profession one of the most sacrosanct and at par with the human medicine in such countries.
The inclusivity of the profession improves when the system works in coordination and as per rules. Our system is marred by lack of proper utilisation of Vet professionals. This is due to the lack of a system that could function as per the required services and needs of the society. Due to the poor infrastructural system in the vet profession, inclusivity for effective deliverance is highly unmet, although skilled manpower availability never falls short. For services to be delivered under limited resources, the gap should reduce among the peripheral veterinary centres, district head-quarters and referral clinics or hospitals of the universities. Further, a link between human and veterinary hospitals should be made to reduce the infrastructural gap whether for the diagnostic, therapeutic or research purposes.
Dr Mudasir Bashir Gugjoo, Assistant Professor, SKUAST-K
(The ideas shared here are personal and not endorsed by the Institute author works in)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.