Juan Sebastian Orjuela, aka “Juancho”, is a 3rd-year veterinary student at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Canada. He is also the other Co-Founder of the Latinx Veterinary Medical Association (LVMA). He was born in Bogota, Colombia but his family emigrated to Minneapolis, Minnesota when he was 10 years old. His journey continued as he moved to Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin where he finished high school and proceeded by moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Juan earned two degrees in Biology and Conservation & Environmental Sciences in 2012. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree he moved to New York City where he worked as a veterinary technician in Manhattan. Juan has always had a passion for veterinary medicine from a very young age and has worked in a variety of fields within the veterinary profession; emergency, lab animal, exotics, and general practice. Juan has a passion for world travel and documenting his journey on different social media platforms.
1- Tell us about your role as a vet student in Diversity and Inclusion? How have you been involved?
I grew up with the desire of becoming a veterinarian but it was a struggle for me. I was privileged enough to have my family’s full support, but when we emigrated to the United States, I was faced with a variety of obstacles that made my dream of becoming a doctor somewhat fictional. I walked this journey on my own, I struggled to find a veterinary role model that looked like me, I lacked mentorship, I lacked encouragement from my educators, and my family didn’t have the finances to invest in my dream. As I grew older, I found myself working very hard to create/find opportunities that would shape me to be a competitive applicant for veterinary school. I had to grow up faster than most people my age. I obtained my first job walking dogs in the third grade. This opportunity led me to train these dogs in obedience, agility, and tracking. Through this, I was able to network my way into showing dogs as a junior handler in AKC and UKC, where I was finally exposed to veterinarians, breeders, and animal industry representatives.
I think diversity and inclusion have always played an important role in my life. As a veterinary student, I made my mission to help people understand the importance of diversity and inclusion by creating a social media platform where I was able to amplify my voice. I didn’t want kids, pre-vet students, and veterinary students like myself to feel alone in their journey. I wanted to become that role model, that mentor, and that source of encouragement that I never had. At my veterinary college, I decided to take on the role of becoming co-president of our PrideVMC Chapter. I always make sure to show my peers how proud I am of being Colombian, gay, and bilingual. Most importantly I decided to create the LVMA, a North American community that will help millions of Latinx people like myself navigate veterinary medicine.
2- What motivated you to become one of the Co-founders of the Latinx Veterinary Medical Association?
Throughout my life, I have been told by extended family, friends, and teachers to find a plan B because they told me: “you have to be extremely smart to get into a veterinary program.” I had several veterinarians trying to discourage me from going into this profession because they were burnt out. I had a veterinarian once told me not to worry about getting in because I was a minority. He said that it would be easy for me to get in since all veterinary schools have a minority quota to fill. This was the last straw for me. This veterinarian discredited all of my hard work and sacrifice due to the simple fact that I was a minority. I am thankful for all of these experiences because they lit a fire under my ass and fueled my motivation to prove all of these people wrong.
My goal of creating LVMA originated long before I had gotten accepted into OVC. Through social media, I met a variety of Latinx students that helped me construct LVMA to become the organization that it is today. LVMA was established with the sole purpose of creating a community of Latinx excellence in veterinary medicine through; mentorship, scholarship, community outreach, and professional development.
3- As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, what challenges have you dealt with it in vet medicine?
My pronouns are He/Him/His. Since starting veterinary school, I have been very open about my sexual orientation. The only challenge that I experienced was finding a strong community that was active in representing LGBTQ+ people at OVC. I found that the majority of the LGBTQ+ student population didn’t want to be involved with the decaying student club. So, I decided to team up with one of my classmates to become co-presidents and redesign our PrideVMC chapter to make it more welcoming for everyone in our community, including allies. One of my proudest initiatives was organizing 30+ people to march at the 2019 Toronto Pride Parade.
My journey as a gay man is far from what the majority of people in the LGBTQ+ community have experienced. I have been privileged to never have gotten bullied for my sexual orientation. I lived a big part of my life in the closet due to cultural and family pressures, but I finally had the courage to come out during my freshman year of college. I was received with a lot of love and support from family, friends, and colleagues. I strive to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ people in our community. I am aware that many LGBTQ+ people in veterinary medicine have dealt with, and continue to deal with, different challenges/adversities. I am here to provide anyone that is struggling with support, advice, love, and encouragement… because they are loved and they matter.
4- How do you plan to continue promoting diversity as a future Latinx veterinarian?
I plan to continue promoting diversity and inclusion for the rest of my life. I recognize the power of social media and encourage anyone interested in amplifying their voice to utilize it. I will continue to share my experiences with the hope of inspiring others and educating them on topics that may be uncomfortable for others to talk about.
To me it is all about normalizing our differences, so people start seeing the value of diversity and the crucial role it plays in our society today. I strive to empower, elevate, and amplify the voices of those who stand with diversity and inclusion, through my platforms. I vow to promote diversity as a doctor and future practice owner.