By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — A new show previously aired on the National Geographic channel and now showing on Disney + is providing a spotlight for a sector of society that seldom gets mentioned, let alone given extensive exposure. “Critter Fixers: County Vets” focuses on Black veterinarians, a small group within a highly specialized field. Only two percent of working veterinarians in America are Black.
Dr. Vernard Hodges and Dr. Terrence Ferguson are both friends and part of that special group. Their friendship has extended across three decades, and they are featured throughout the program. They hope to both inform audiences about their field and also encourage others, particularly young Blacks, to consider the field for a future occupation.
“It started in a mop closet,” Dr. Hodges explained during a panel at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture. “Terrence and I were talking. I was like, ‘Man we keep getting kids who want to, you know, emulate us.’ And I was like, ‘Let’s just do it, let’s just have a bunch of kids here at the same time.’ So we did it, and put some stuff up. We had kids from four different states and then we began doing this nationwide and so far, I think we’ve had about 200 [participants]. By the end of the year, with the kids that are enrolled, [that number] should be close to 600.”
“I would say that when Dr. Hodges and I first began about 15 years ago, it was pretty traditional – dogs, cats, you know, horses, and cows,” Dr. Ferguson recalled. “But in the last maybe five to seven years, I think everybody is trying to one-up each other, right. One person wants to say ‘I have a bearded dragon,’ and another will go, ‘Yeah, I have a chameleon.’ So everybody’s trying to one-up one another and we’re seeing everything. You know, I don’t know why someone made this motto, ‘We treat them all.’ But I guess we have to treat them all (chuckles).”
Dr. Hodges reiterates that there cannot be a focus on one particular species of animal for those looking to enter the veterinary practice.
“Typically people think about veterinarians as you know, treating dogs and cats, that we kind of just go back and maybe do some vaccines, but I mean sometimes, before lunch, I’ve delivered puppies,” Dr. Hodges chuckled.
“I’ve been an obstetrician. I’ve done some ophthalmology with the eyes. I’ve done some orthopedics with bone surgery,” he continued. “I’ve been in internal medicine. I’ve used my endoscope to look down stuff and all of this is before lunch. If it comes in, you know, we have to treat it. We have to figure out what’s going on with all of the animals, even on the inside. I’ve done ultrasounds myself, radiology, I mean the skill level for most veterinarians is pretty high.”
Together, Dr. Hodges and Dr. Ferguson are the representation in the field that they wish they would’ve had at an early age.
“It wasn’t until I was a junior in undergrad that I saw the first Black veterinarian,” Dr. Ferguson recounted.
“And it became a time that I was discouraged. That’s why the program that we put together in this platform that Nat Geo and Disney have given us to show the world that you can look like us and be veterinarians,” he expressed. “That’s what the beauty of this has looked like for me.”