Having served as a veterinarian for more than four decades in the Seattle area, Michael Bellinghausen (WSU ‘84) can attest that veterinarians largely do not represent the clients they serve.
“For a lot of our clients, it would be nice to see somebody that looks like them in the profession,” said Dr. Bellinghausen. “You look at the numbers in veterinary medicine and we have less diversity than most other health care professions.”
According to 2021 information from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the profession is more than 90% white. Just more than 5% of all veterinarians are of Asian ethnicity; about 4% are Hispanic or Latino; and about 1% are Black.
To promote racial and socioeconomic diversity in the veterinary field, Bellinghausen started the Dr. Michael Bellinghausen Veterinary Scholarship at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
The $1,000 annual scholarship was established through a $25,000 endowment from Bellinghausen. Initially only available to veterinary students in their fourth and final year of WSU’s competitive veterinary program, the scholarship was amended last year to serve students from underrepresented backgrounds in any year of the curriculum. Bellinghausen did the same for a similar scholarship in his name at Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Bellinghausen’s daughter, Stephanie, who is half Japanese and recently earned her veterinary degree, is a big part of his inspiration to rewrite the scholarship.
“I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while,” he said. “My daughter went to school at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and she felt she was blazing some trails being a woman of ethnic diversity. And I just said, ‘you know, how are we going to get more diversity in our profession? What can I do?’”
With that in mind, Bellinghausen reached out to his alma mater and adjusted the Dr. Michael Bellinghausen Veterinary Scholarship to aid underrepresented students and chip away at the field’s costly financial barrier.
After serving on the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Admissions Committee for 6 years in the late 2000s, Bellinghausen began to think about the lack of diversity in the applicant pool. At the time he felt the profession was missing out on attracting underrepresented groups. “If we could somehow open the door and provide an opportunity for these folks,” he said.
With his scholarship, he hopes to do just that, but he recognizes diversifying the veterinary profession really starts by promoting diversity as early as high school.
“We need to give examples of diverse veterinarians currently in our profession, either through stories or with in-person presentations to these young students. We need to let them know there are scholarships available to help with the high cost of a veterinary medical education.” Bellinghausen said.
The scholarship directly aligns with the veterinary college’s and the American Veterinary Medical Association initiative for more diversity in the profession. It will be awarded this spring for the first time since it was amended.
Bellinghausen 65, serves on the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Now semiretired and late in his career, he said he is finally starting to see more diversity in the profession. He hopes this scholarship can help be a driver.
“I just want the future of our profession to know there are opportunities out there to help alleviate some of the financial burden associated with attaining a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree,” Bellinghausen said.
By Josh Babcock