CHICAGO (WLS) -- Dr. Shaunita Sharpe is living her dream as an emergency veterinarian at the Veterinary Specialty Center in Buffalo Grove.
"I always wanted to be a veterinarian," Sharpe said. "I can't really think of anything else I wanted to do."
But, the first time she ever came into contact with a Black veterinarian was when she was in college. The field is still overwhelmingly white.
According to 2019 U.S. Census data, less than 2% of veterinarians in the United States are Black, and nearly 90% are white.
"Morally, I think we need to do better," Sharpe said.
Dr. Annie Daniel founded the National Association for Black Veterinarians, which is working to increase the number of Black people in the profession by developing a support system for students.
The association provides mentorship opportunities and hosts an annual conference to give Black veterinarians in the field an opportunity to connect and develop professionally.
"These students are out there. They need support. They want support," Daniel said. "Some of them have been interested in being veterinarians since they were in elementary school."
Black veterinarians said exposure to the field is key.
"We in the profession, especially a small minority of us, are trying to make things better," Sharpe said. "So I know here at VSC, we have programs developed to increase diversity."
These programs include scholarships and externships for student veterinarians.
Veterinarian Dr. Jeremy Williams said he often speaks at career day at local schools.
Williams said when people visit the Hyde Park Animal Hospital and Hyde Park Animal Clinic, they see a staff that is mostly people of color. He believes that could inspire young people to pursue the profession.
"I think it is definitely something when people come in and they are surprised," Williams said.
But Sharpe said she's looking forward to the day when her profession reflects the demographics of the country.