Representation matters. This is something that Dr. William Draper and Dr. Francoise Tyler learned as they navigated the path to becoming Veterinarians. A message that they carried throughout their schooling, during their professional development, and a message they carry now as full time Veterinarians, animal lovers, and parents. This week we are highlighting Dr. William Draper and Dr. Francoise Tyler - a dynamic duo - married Veterinarians who have been paving a path for diversity and representation in the field of veterinary medicine for years.
Dr. William Draper and Dr. Francoise Tyler both graduated from Tuskegee University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama in 1991 (1). After graduating, Dr. Draper went to Maryland to work an internship at a hospital and Dr. Tyler went to fulfill her internship at the University of Georgia (1). After his year long internship, Dr. Draper moved to Georgia “to court his wife, whom he’d met at Tuskegee… They decided to settle down and he started looking for a job (1).” Despite this seemingly simple climb to success, Dr. Draper says to understand his success, drive, and full experience, you have to know the story of his upbringing.
Dr. Draper grew up in Inglewood, CA. His parents, grandfather, maternal grandparents, and maternal great grandmother all obtained their undergraduate degrees from Tuskegee University (4). His father was an engineer and his mother was an elementary teacher with diverse colleagues (1). She made sure to engage Dr. Draper and his siblings with her Latino, White, and Asian colleagues and their children frequently (1). As a result, his parents taught him and his siblings the value of diversity as well as the mindset that anything was achievable for them (1). He says that “‘this ignorance [about race] that my parents put in me,...has been a big part of my success in my life, I’ve never thought there was something I couldn’t do.” When it came time to decide on a school and degree as a young person, Tuskegee and engineering felt right. After coming to the realization that math was not his strongest subject, Dr. Draper’s grandmother suggested the College of Veterinary Medicine since he loved animals so much (1). He agreed and set off to pursue a childhood dream and career in what he didn’t realize at the time was an “overwhelmingly white” profession (1).
Despite the feeling instilled in him that there was nothing he couldn’t do (1), Dr. Draper’s experiences throughout school and in the workforce were not isolated from hatred, racism, and barriers. After moving from California to Alabama to attend Tuskegee, Dr. Draper recalls being called racial slurs (1). While working at a practice after graduating, one practice manager told Draper that a dog was growling at him because “Black people have a smell that’s different than white people (4).” After starting a job in Tucker, Georgia, Dr. Draper details a time when a white client told him he “ain’t seein’ no colored doctor” (4). Seeing that the man’s dog had congestive heart failure, Dr. Draper knew he couldn’t simply let this man refuse treatment for his dog based on his racial prejudices. Draper eventually convinced the man to allow him to stabilize his dog saying “‘You don’t have to see a colored doctor any day but today. Because I’m the only doctor here and your dog is dying. (1) (4).” Ironically, from this day forward, this client refused to take his dog to anyone except Dr. Draper.
Apart from the microaggressions, racial slurs, and discrimmation, there was a clear lack of representation or diversity in the field of veterinary medicine. After he and his wife started their own practice, “The Village Vets,” in 2000, they would be invited to “weekend junkets'' by pharmaceutical companies (4). No matter the size of the event, he and his wife were consistently the only two Black Veterinarians there. They, like many others, recognized the homogeneity of the industry and noted “that’s a problem (1).” Draper and Tyler had each other, but what about Black Veterinarians starting a job at a practice with no Black colleagues?
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Starting off unintentionally and developing into an intentional act, Dr. Draper and Dr. Tyler truly paved a path for diversity in the field and became public role models for future African American Veterinarians, including their 17 year old son who plans to become a Veterinarian (1). In their own Veterinary practices in metropolitan Atlanta, Dr. Draper and Dr. Tyler do their part to create opportunities for recent graduates by “offers students graduating from veterinary school the opportunity to hire on at Village Vets, train for a year, and then move up to become a managing partner (1).” Dr. Draper says that they aim to hire the best candidates regardless of race and at their practice, “8 of the 25 veterinarians on staff are Black—and 2 … are male (1).” He says in a field dominated by white women this is like “seeing Big Foot riding a unicorn. (1)”
Beyond their personal hiring practices, Dr. Draper and Dr. Tyler hope to show African American children everywhere that Veterinary Medicine is a career option in the first place. Mentioned in last week’s article, there are animal care deserts and oftentimes, Black students have less robust (if any) STEM programming in their schools. Lack of exposure and preparation are huge attributors to the lack of African American Veterinarians in the workforce (see last week’s highlight on our website for more on this topic).
Dr. Draper and Dr. Tyler’s recognition of the importance of diversity and representation in the field is why they pursued being featured in a “three-part television pilot for the National Geographic Channel” called “Love and Vets” seen on Disney+ (6). “Love and Vets” is a show about a married Veterinarian couple (1). Dr. Draper says pursuing this opportunity was never about the fame or money. “It’s about letting that little African-American child who’s sitting at home being homeschooled and doesn’t really know what he wants to do see me and go, ‘Wow, I can do that! (1).”’ In addition to “Love and Pets,” Dr. Draper is a “veterinary content editor for WebMD magazine,” (5) has acted as a “veterinary commentator on Nat Geo WILD’s Animal ER Live,” and has provided “veterinary expertise on HLN, CNN, and numerous local Atlanta news outlets” (5).
These experiences are amazing professional experiences but also are direct action aimed at opening doors for future African American Veterinarians, by increasing visible representation and diversity in the voices heard in the industry. His dedication to his clients as well as increasing diversity in veterinary medicine are clear when asked what his favorite part of the journey has been.
He says, “One of my favorite parts of my journey is providing an amazing experience for clients, pets, and our team members. I take all of it very personally, and am dedicated to making it an overall positive and memorable one, sun up to sundown, every single day. I am also excited for what the future holds in our profession- and focused on providing opportunities and options to young veterinarians outside of the corporate practice design (3).”
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In last week’s highlight we indicated that 0.0% of Veterinarians are African American. We went through many of the reasons for this strikingly low number and provided links for further reading. If you haven’t read that highlight click HERE to read.
Dr. Draper feels that compared to when he attended Tuskegee in the late 80s - 1991, universities are improving at admitting minority students (4). When he attended school, “institutions rarely admitted minorities” (4). However, as a general population, he believes things still have not changed all that much since the 80s and 90s. Having 4 children of his own, Dr. Draper is saddened by the continued “blatant mistreatment of minorities in this day and age (4).” He has had to have difficult conversations with his children about how to stay safe as a Black person in Atlanta (4) - a conversation all too familiar for Black families across America. Dr. Draper sums up his thoughts on the state of our country and world by saying:
“I have a great life; I love my job, and I love Atlanta. I have clients of all colors, and they are, as a whole, amazing, caring people. I’m as fortunate as anyone I know, but I do see chinks in the armor of our communities and the world that worry me,” Dr. Draper said. “That I have to look at a video of a Black man being killed with a knee on his neck in 2020—that’s blatant racism. I don’t know why it’s still happening in this day and age.” (4)
It is clear that Dr. Draper and Dr. Tyler have huge hearts. And this extends beyond the pets that they dedicate their time to helping at their practices, “The Village Vets.” They also have rescued a handful of shelter pets themselves! Dr. Draper says “One of the side benefits of having a veterinarian practice is getting word when a rescue needs a home” (2). They have two cats, “Kid Charlemagne or “Charlie” and Zig Zag,” and four dogs, Frankie, Max, Louie, and Louie #2 (also called Satchmo) (2) as of 2017. Prior to Louie #2, they had a Jack Russel Terrier named Gypsy who was especially beloved by Dr. Draper (2). When Gypsy passed away, despite having his wife by his side, a booming Veterinary business, four children, and 5 other pets, Dr. Draper knew there was one piece missing (2). Not long after, they rescued Louie #2, an “8-year-old French bulldog from a rescue group called F.R.O.G.S. (2).”
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We are so honored to recognize Dr. William Draper and Dr. Francoise Tyler in this week’s highlight celebrating Black History Month. To read even more about Dr. Draper, Dr. Tyler, and more, click the sources below!