Interviewed by Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor

Jessica Tarpley works  at Anne Arundel Veterinary Emergency Clinic.

AFRO: Tell us what you do and why you’re passionate about your work.

JT: Veterinary technicians are the nurses charged with the responsibilities of caring for our beloved animal companions; many of the tasks and responsibilities one would associate with nurses working in human medicine, also apply to those of us working in the veterinary profession. For me personally, working as a veterinary nurse satisfies both a love and desire to care for our animal friends, but also, the skill, knowledge, and the kind of quick thinking and problem solving that working in medicine requires can also be quite satisfying in the intellectual capacity.

AFRO: Are there many African Americans in your profession and do you feel that your race plays a role in your work or interaction with clients?

Jessica Tarpley shares her experiences in the field and advice for taking care of pet companions during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Photo)

JT: I find myself very fortunate to work in a clinic where there are a number of other African American men and women working on our team. While the veterinary profession overall has grown in diversity since I made my entry, it does still have a long way to go. Encounters with clients that treat me as if my skills and/or knowledge are somehow inferior to my lighter counterparts are not uncommon. For instance; answering a question a client may have, only to have them go behind me to ask team members the same questions over again; or they may go behind me and outright question my capabilities, and ask for another nurse entirely; or, they look at me as if I am out of place altogether. I have had those experiences where clients have fabricated lies outright in some instances, and although I can’t be certain that race was the factor, in many of these cases, I have had enough overt experiences with racism along my journey in this profession to be able to recognize the more subtle forms when they occur.

AFRO: Were you or your job affected by COVID-19 and have there been any changes in how you do your job due to the pandemic?

JT: We are no exception when it comes to the impact of the pandemic. On one hand, we are blessed to have stable employment during this time, but we are putting our families and ourselves at risk every day that we show up to work. Although we have implemented changes in policies to better protect us, such as; mandatory face masks, no longer allowing clients access to the hospital, disinfecting surfaces in the hospital, measures taken if a patient comes in that has been exposed to the virus, etcetera; we are still putting ourselves at risk, and there is not one team member of mine that has not been impacted by the stress of this pandemic. Not only that, but many within our profession have lost their jobs as some clinics have had to reduce staff, or close their doors altogether. This has lead to an increased influx of patients coming, thus heavier case loads, and way more stress.

AFRO: What kept you working despite the pandemic?

JT: I love my job, but I also need my job; I have bills to pay. It does also help to keep a sense of normalcy, which helps ease the psychological impact of the pandemic.

AFRO: Have you run into any pets being affected by the pandemic in any way (a pet getting sick or affected/ displaced because their owner had COVID-19)?

JT: Our animal companions are indeed being impacted in a very unfortunate manner as well.  As we are well aware, many have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, leading to a decrease in funds available to treat their pet should anything happen. Unfortunately, this has lead to an increase in the number of euthanasias that might not have otherwise been considered, and pets getting the bare minimum of what they really need. We really do try to help out where we can- discounts, donations, and even adoptions (in those instances where we have a client open to surrendering their pet to a willing team member). 

AFRO: Do you have any suggestions for families with pets and how to keep them safe, healthy and active during this time of social distancing?

JT: My suggestion to families with pets would be to just to continue to be focused on taking preventive measures to keep your pets safe and out of trouble. This time of year the biggest concern is minimizing their exposure to the dangerous heat we have been experiencing as of late, especially if you have a brachycephalic (“smush faced”) breed; it doesn’t take much exposure for them to go into distress. Except for short potty breaks, keep them inside. I can’t stress this enough. 

AFRO: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or in general that I didn’t ask?

JT: A final thought, because every one of us working in this profession has had to face this criticism from clients; no one is in this profession “for the money.” Not one.  Because, we are grossly undervalued and underpaid here, including and especially the DVMs (Doctors of Veterinary Medicine), it really is a labor of love!


Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor