Dr. Jonathan Bentley- GVMA Profiles in Diversity

Dr. Bentley graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Bentley is an Assistant Director for the Board of Directors & on the Membership Committee. He is also Vice President of the Gwinnett County Veterinary Medical Association. When he is not at the hospital, Dr. Bentley enjoys spending time with his wife and three dogs and six cats. They keep busy outdoors hiking, camping and landscaping.

When you were growing up did you encounter any African-American veterinarians? Did you have any veterinarians of color to look up to?
The first time I encountered an African American veterinarian was the summer before my freshmen year in Undergraduate school. As a child, my family and I moved around a lot and when we finally settled down, we were in Stockbridge, Georgia; a city that was rural/suburban at the time. Dr. Debra Smith, who at the time worked at Banfield Pet Hospital of McDonough, was the first veterinarian of color that I worked with closely. She was a good practitioner and a great role model. Looking back, I was so interested in becoming a veterinarian that I absorbed knowledge from whatever source I could find. Despite the race of my mentors, a large portion of the veterinarian I am today came from them.

Why do you think there are so few African American veterinarians even though they make up 13.4 percent of the general population?

“I believe the lack of exposure and opportunity are the two main reasons why there are so few African American veterinarians. It is hard to learn or take a true interest in something that is never seen as a possibility. More role models are needed. The path to becoming a veterinarian is not an easy one; it is comprised of sacrifice and sometimes challenges. I have come to realize that this is why strong role models are needed. These individuals should be a visualization of the destination and to guide the way.”

Granted, with the advent of Critter Fixers and the Vet Life, things should hopefully be changing in the future. Even though I have chosen to plant my roots in a primarily Caucasian community, I understand the need for more African American veterinarians, and I am committed and do my part to serve as one. Another reason for so few African American veterinarians is financial constraints that limit availability of opportunity. I was fortunate enough to have parents with two cars and a clinic nearby that allowed me to volunteer and shadow when I was in high school.

What are some of the ways in which you feel it is more difficult to be African American in veterinary medicine?
Financial concern is one way it is more difficult to be African American in veterinary medicine. When looking at some of the demographics, there are those that come from inner cities or less affluent areas who had to seek financial aid in the form of student loans. In addition to undergraduate loans, veterinary school loans can be daunting. Although veterinarians make a well-earned salary, this can be discouraging when contemplating becoming a veterinarian.

“Another way is socially. Despite how far we have come as a country regarding equality, there will always be those who do not respect the white coat and see the color of the skin instead.”

Although I have had the same schooling as a fellow Caucasian veterinarian, there are clientele, Caucasian or African American, that will distrust the way I practice because the color of my skin. This can be very discouraging.

What was it like to experience the racial tensions in the summer of 2020 and then go to work? Did you talk about your feelings with your co-workers? Did you want to?
As a general rule I try not to discuss politics, race or religion during business hours. My focus is to be the pet advocate and the best veterinarian I can be.

What do you wish your colleagues knew about practicing medicine as a minority in a white dominant profession?
Remember that no matter what our job must be the pet advocate, educate the client and always show compassion. Those three things should be first and foremost and that we should all have the same goals. Also, remember to use organizations, such as GVMA, or local VMA, to connect and establish a support network. With these trying times, we need to support and uplift each other.

Have you had any negative experiences with clients where you were discriminated against because of your race?
The majority of my experience with clients has been pleasant. There have been a few cases where I was called the “colored doctor” by those of a different generation. In some cases, I politely correct by saying, “Dr. Bentley will do”, or have more meaningful conversations if warranted. One client that I will always remember is this gentleman who was referred to us by his mother. I had seen her pet before on a few occasions. He came in wearing various white supremacy paraphernalia in the form of body art and clothing. He requested his puppy be seen for vaccines as a walk-in appointment. I believe his mother may not have informed him of an accurate description of me. Regardless, my job was to be the pet advocate in which I went over puppy immunization series, the importance of deworming, and starting flea and heart worm medication. I never saw him again after that appointment. I cannot confirm it was because of the color of my skin, but I know I did my job as his pet’s veterinarian.

Have you had any experiences with colleagues where you were discriminated against because of your race?
I have not had any experiences of discrimination with my colleagues at my current clinic. We have a tight knit group, and we are all very respectful of each other. However, there is a time I recall I was interviewing for jobs after graduating veterinary school. I was informed by a friend that the practice owner of one clinic I interviewed had some serious reservations about how the clientele would act to an African American doctor.

In what ways does the profession need to evolve in regards to diversity and inclusion?
The more presence of veterinary diversity in the community, the more accepting the community will become. To reference the first question, this is where role models and mentorship are important. At my current clinic, I participate in the Explorer Program. This program allows high school students to volunteer/shadow doctors and for us as a staff to teach and inspire. Many of these students are students of color. We also function as a teaching hospital that also takes on college level externs and CVM externs. One of my passions, prior to COVID-19, was visiting the local elementary and middle schools in our area for career day.

“I believe that an all-hands-on deck approach is needed where we as a profession are reaching out to these kids, establishing connections and building relationships.’

Do you feel like you can show your true identity at work? If not, what would it look like for you?
I do believe that with any career, communication and expression is key. I have always been professional, but if a client requires me to change my mannerisms for the good of the patient care, I have done so. Honestly, my true identity would look more like a quiet, satirical nerd who loves most things Star Wars and still likes dinosaurs.

What do you hope the next generation of African American veterinarians are spared from that you’ve had to endure?
I feel like my path to becoming a veterinarian has not been as hard as for others. When speaking with my colleagues, I think we can all agree that we hope that those who come after us will be free from prejudice. Even mild prejudice can cause self-doubt. My hope is that they can find resources, scholarships, and opportunities that were not so readily available when I was growing up as a child. I also hope they will have a strong support system made up of family, friends, and mentors that will help foster dreams of being a great veterinarian and pet advocate. As I mentioned before, less affluent kids are not presented with the dream of a medical career such as veterinary medicine. With the continued growing numbers of more diverse races in this field, I hope that we continue to inspire and provide more open doors to make this a more inclusive field.

Taken from the 2021 fall edition of “The GA Vet” magazine.