CultureMost Famous African American Veterinarians

Most Famous African American Veterinarians


Black Americans are an important part of the country’s rural population. A significant percentage of rural populations are Black Americans. Animal life is an important part of the lives of people both in rural and urban communities, yet there tends to be an underrepresentation in this field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black veterinarians account for just under 2% of the veterinary workforce in the U.S. Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, which graduated its first class of graduates in 1949, is where most of them come from. A large part of the disparity in the numbers of Blacks as veterinarians can be explained by the fact that the profession was historically dominated by white people. African Americans were not encouraged to pursue careers in animal care. The work that many Black Americans would have done in relation to animals would have been limited to menial tasks such as herding and milking. In order to address the lack of African Americans in the veterinary profession, and the high costs of veterinary education, Black Americans need to embrace the profession and become veterinarians. Being a veterinarian also opens up many opportunities that would not be available to someone outside of the profession, such as the ability to travel to exotic countries and work with wildlife.

Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson

Dr. Patterson was orphaned at age two, and due to that, he grew up under the care of his older sister. Despite the hardships he faced, he earned his DVM from Iowa State College in 1923 and his masters and doctoral degrees from Cornell University. He began teaching at Tuskegee University in 1928 and founded the Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine in 1944. Dr. Patterson was instrumental in the creation of the United Negro College Fund, which continues to financially support Historically Black Colleges and Universities today. In 1987, President Reagan awarded Dr. Patterson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Most Famous African American Veterinarians

Dr. Earl H. Rippie, Jr.

Dr. Rippie had a successful 45-year career as a veterinarian, owning a veterinary hospital and director until he retired in 2011. He graduated from Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine in 1967. During his time as a veterinarian, Dr. Rippie held various positions, including President of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association and a delegate for the AVMA for nine years. Among the achievements and contributions he made to veterinary medicine, he was an inaugural member of the Latin American Veterinary Association. Dr. Rippie was posthumously honored for his contribution to veterinary medicine.

Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb

Dr. Johnson Webb completed her science degree at the Tuskegee Institute and attended the Tuskegee Institute College of Veterinary Medicine. She became the first African American woman to graduate from veterinary school and the United States’ first African American woman veterinarian. Until 1959, Dr. Johnson Webb taught anatomy at the Tuskegee Institute, later serving as a biology professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Dr. Johnson Webb was a founding member of the planning committee that established the School of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University. She later served as a legislator, holding several positions within the Democratic Party of North Carolina. She was the first African American woman to be elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1971, serving on several committees, including Minority Affairs, Democratic Women of North Carolina, and the NC Council on Sickle Cell Disease.

Dr. Iverson C. Bell

After graduating from high school, he enrolled in Kansas State University before going to war and returning to finish his education at Wayne State University in Detroit. Using his GI bill benefits, he earned his veterinary degree from Michigan State University in 1949. When Dr. Bell finished school, he joined Tuskegee University’s Small Animal Medicine department as a founding professor. Dr. Bell, a family man, then opened a small animal clinic in Indiana. For 35 years, the clinic prospered under his stewardship. Dr. Bell was a strong member of veterinary leadership, political, and social justice organizations. Dr. Bell was an active member of the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association, serving in several positions and helping to establish Purdue University’s veterinary school. He valued education and mentoring future veterinarians. Dr. Bell was an active political figure in addition to being a respected veterinarian. He was nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria by President John F. Kennedy and was lauded for his fair housing and criminal justice work. Throughout his lifetime, Dr. Bell worked hard to eradicate discrimination, serving as the president of his local NAACP chapter. In recognition of his contributions as a veterinarian and supporter of underprivileged groups. 

Ending thoughts

Due to the relatively small number of black veterinarians, you may have trouble finding a doctor for your beloved pets. Don’t give up, and here are some ways you can speed up your search. Here are a few resources you can use. One option may be to talk to black pet owners. Ask if they have any recommendations. Most states have a state veterinary association that can provide you with contact information for their state’s black veterinary associations. Many associations also have a membership list that you can subscribe to. You can also look online for black veterinary associations in your state. You can search for black veterinary professional associations in your area. Tuskegee University has a large veterinarian school that graduates the majority of African Americans veterinarians. You can contact them, and they would be happy to give you some recommendations for vets in your community.

African American veterinary students are substantially underrepresented in veterinary schools, as are African American faculty at veterinary colleges. African American veterinarians are a minority in their own communities, but they also face unique challenges when it comes to finding work, landing partnerships, and retaining patients. Their low representation in the profession isn’t for lack of caring about them — it’s because of systemic barriers that keep African Americans from entering the industry. You can do your part to make changes to keep these well-trained people active in their careers.

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Tom has always loved to write since he was little - he wanted to be either a writer or a veterinary doctor, but he ended up being a professional writer. He was born in San Francisco but later moved to Texas to continue his job as a writer. He graduated from the University of San Francisco where he studied biotechnology. He is happily married and a soon to be father!


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