Jasmine Curtis is an RVN who currently works as a Veterinary Nursing Enrolment Officer at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. She is currently assisting with a project looking at how better support can be provided to student veterinary nurses from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background and encourage more people from those backgrounds into the profession.
The most recent stats regarding ethnic background in veterinary nursing show that only 1.9% of Registered Veterinary Nurses are from a BAME background (Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, 2021).
My own ethnic background was something I was ashamed of when I was younger and felt unable to talk to people about.
However, I am now pleased to say that I get my skin colour from my Sri Lankan family. My grandparents emigrated from Sri Lanka (they prefer to call it Ceylon) with their five siblings and their families to England in the 1950s due to the Gal Oya riots that took place against Sri Lankan Tamils.
Sri Lankans are split into 4 different ethnic groups Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers. My family belonged to the Burgher people who were descendants of the Dutch and Portuguese colonies of the 16th and 17th centuries.
My childhood within a Sri Lankan family meant a lot of large family parties which always came with fabulous food and lots of belly laughs! The gatherings we used to have were probably one of the highlights of my childhood, and I feel sad I am not able to give my own children the same experience as my family has dispersed across the UK, so it’s not as easy logistically.
The Sri Lankan mixed with the Irish from the other side of my family have given me dark features and brown skin colour. During school, and especially in my teenage years, I was often ridiculed for the colour of my skin. Racial abuse was horrible and made me hide my attendance to my family parties or what I ate at the weekends just so I wouldn’t give people ammunition to start name-calling. I used to hide my ethnic background on forms and I would put I was white just so I would feel accepted and not have to explain myself. This is not something I regularly speak about as I am mortified that I felt I had to hide my heritage and who I was to please others.
Once I left school, I started college and started working in practice as a student veterinary nurse. During my time in training I was just accepted, no mention of colour, religion etc, I was just me and I learnt to embrace that. When I started expressing my heritage, people were interested and I started to become proud of my background and the colour of my skin, this was when I started to tick the Asian/White box on forms and found my confidence. Working in practice was the first time I spent a lot of time with a group of people without them making a ‘wisecrack’ if I ate a curry at the weekend and it made me realise how much I had put up with in my younger years. I have now been a proud RVN for 14 years and even if I had ever been subjected to any racial abuse in my personal life, the veterinary industry is my ‘safe place’ where I have felt accepted.
I appreciate that everyone in the veterinary sector has had different experiences when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion, and by sharing my story I hope that it may inspire people to also share positive or negative experiences that they have had in practice. I have spent the last hour writing this and feel liberated that I get to share my story as I know I am not the only person in the veterinary profession who has faced issues either in work or in their personal life. Even if you are not willing to share your story, I would encourage people to write it down or speak out and not keep anything bottled up.
I am now involved with the Student Diversity Group for veterinary nursing and would hope that in time we can increase the number and proportion of veterinary nurses who come from BAME backgrounds, because it is a brilliant and very rewarding profession and I think that having people from a broader range of backgrounds, bringing a wider range of experiences and ideas can only be a good thing. If you feel you would like to be involved or have any ideas then please feel free to contact me.