Coming together for change
July 29 - August 2, 2022 ● Philadelphia
Start your week with coffee and conversation at the AVMA Convention!
Dr. Marissa Rothenbaum graduated from the University of California, Davis – School of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. She joined Banfield as an associate veterinarian the same year. After becoming a hospital leader she transitioned to Banfield’s headquarters as a member of the Veterinary Affairs team. Dr. Rothenbaum has always been dedicated to developing those around her, specifically clinical and communication skills, and enjoys supporting this for all Banfield hosptials. Dr. Rothenbaum is ultimately driven by her deep respect for the human-animal bond and the recognition of the role veterinary providers play in supporting that connection. Working with the DVMC closely connects to her “why” as diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging directly impact the relationship between a pet owner and their veterinary team and the quality of care a pet receives. In addition to her role with the DVMC, Dr. Rothenbaum is an officer for the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association and is co-lead of Banfield’s Asian and Pacific Islander diversity resource group.
Robert received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the College of Engineering and Architecture at Howard University. Since graduation, he has worked for several fast-moving consumer goods companies within the food industry where he led the development and commercialization of new products and processes to improve sales and profitability. Robert has spent the last five years as a Manager of Industrial Development at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health leveraging skills acquired in the food industry to drive growth for top brands within the pet segment. In his new role as Senior Global Product Manager Supply AH, he will perform comprehensive product/project management and governance within AH Global Supply for products/franchises throughout the entire product lifecycle.
Robert has a passion for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging that dates to the beginning of his career as a co-chair for a diversity council, and now in a similar role for the African Heritage Business Resource Group at BI. The DVMC creates another platform in which he can collaborate on initiatives to improve workplace culture and awareness that will lead to more opportunities for people of color to thrive as their authentic selves.
As a young girl growing up in the Caribbean, I had always dreamt of becoming a veterinarian. As early as I can remember, I would try to save every sick or injured stray dog and cat I found living on the streets. My mother and elder sister are both life-long caregivers and nurturers, having spent more than 30 years themselves in the medical profession as registered nurses and midwives.
My dedication, hard work and determination were recognized when I received a scholarship more than 25 years ago to study veterinary medicine. I attended the Ontario Veterinary College in Canada and was extremely happy that I could pursue my passion to help animals and serve my communities. There were very few BIPOC students in the veterinary program then – and even less during my internship, residency, and graduate program in critical care. I was blessed to have wonderful, open-minded friends and influential mentors, who always encouraged me to express my individuality and be proud of the contribution I was making to the profession.
For over a decade in academia as a Professor in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care, and now in my current role as Vice President of Medical Affairs at Antech, I’ve aimed to be a pillar of strength and support to other BIPOC pre-veterinary and veterinary students. It has been both personally and professionally rewarding to represent a positive, resilient role model for students and junior colleagues while helping them overcome obstacles as they also follow their dreams and succeed.
Through my own journey in veterinary medicine, I understand that people long for that culture of safety and belonging, particularly in the BIPOC community. You must recognize that you’re going in with a higher purpose – and that purpose doesn’t sway based on your race, gender, financial status or ethnic background. My passion for helping animals, inner strength and gracious people along the way have carried me through this journey. I have had many phenomenal mentors that didn’t see me as a woman with a different complexion. Just like me, they cared about helping animals – and people, too. That transcends all boundaries. Looking forward, how do we build a community around us that goes beyond color, gender, race or even economic barriers? That’s the goal of the DVMC – and I’m thrilled to be part of it.
I have always enjoyed a challenge. My passion for animal science combined with pre-veterinary curriculum rigor lured me toward a professional career in animal health. However, I noticed that along my career path that role models, mentors or professional symbols that resembled me were noticeably absent. My observation became even more apparent when I realized that I had not met another Black veterinarian until I started vet school at Tuskegee University, a renowned HBCU (Historically Black College and University).
Being the standout amid an environment of high cultural homogeneity can be isolating especially within a profession where bonds, networking and professional connections can be paramount. In the face of this disproportionate reality, I found that I was constantly focused on social maneuvering to avoid feeling “otherized.” From the way that I spoke to the music that I listened to in the veterinary hospital to my hairstyle, my goal was to culturally intermix – or assimilate – with my colleagues. I relied on code-switching so that I didn’t feel like a foreigner in a profession to which I have dedicated my life.
At times, feeling like an outsider can be shockingly surreal. After a busy day of consultations and surgeries, I scrambled to leave the hospital so that I could attend a local veterinary chapter meeting that I had been looking forward to. I remember arriving at the meeting wearing identical attire to my other colleagues. They often wore plaid shirts and khaki pants. When my colleagues entered the building’s foyer to sign in to the meeting, they were greeted with a collegial, ‘Hello and welcome to the meeting.’ I, on the other hand, was immediately regarded as one of the catering staff. Just before I could completely sign my name and collect a swag bag, the liaison for the company leaned in toward me and said, “Make sure you look to the side when you bring the bread out. I will be sitting to the left and you may not see me.” I paused for a few moments to comprehend fully what she said and what was happening at that moment. I replied amiably, “Hi. I’m Dr. Campbell, nice to meet you.” To her credit, she immediately apologized as I watched her cheeks grow crimson with embarrassment. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the hard-working folks in the catering industry, but that incident and similar scenarios have occurred throughout my professional journey. It reinforces a sentiment that many in the BIPOC community have felt while navigating the veterinary space: ‘you aren’t one of us.’
Unfortunately, it is commonplace for BIPOC veterinary students and veterinarians to feel a lack of belonging and connection to their profession. It doesn’t have to be this way. The DVMC aims to meet the needs of the BIPOC community and inspire change throughout the industry. My goal for the DVMC is to feed the appetite and imagination of underrepresented boys and girls who want to be veterinarians. Representation is the universal language of our imagination. We look at people that came before us and say, ‘I can do that.’
I love being a veterinarian – and I want to inspire more people to be interested in veterinary medicine through activism, mentorship, and financial support.