As the president of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA), fourth-year Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine student Hidayah Martinez-Jaka is dedicated to strengthening the community and making veterinary medicine a more welcoming place. Martinez-Jaka assumed office in spring 2020 and is the first woman of color and the first student from the college to serve in this position.

As SAVMA president, Martinez-Jaka represents over 17,000 veterinary students. She is an invited participant on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) board of directors and a delegate in its house of delegates. 

“I don't see leadership as a way to benefit myself, but a way I can lift others' voices up and bring my skills to the table so that we can all shine in our own ways. I found that organized veterinary medicine was that place for me,” she said.

After earning her bachelor’s in biology at Shenandoah University, Martinez-Jaka began her studies at the veterinary college, joining the mixed-animal species track. Here, she learned more about veterinary medicine organizations like the AVMA. In 2019, she was elected as a SAVMA delegate, and from March 2020 to March 2021, she served as national president elect. 

"While I do want my career to be on the clinical side of mixed animal medicine, I still want to be involved with organized veterinary medicine. I feel that it's an extremely powerful way for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and our entire profession to connect across different fields and geographical locations. We can inform one another, take action, provide guidance, combine our voices in legislation, support research, and just support one another, growing as individuals and as a community,” said Martinez-Jaka. 

As national president, Martinez-Jaka works alongside the board of officers and over 150 student delegates and chapter presidents to represent veterinary students from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Caribbean countries Granada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the Cayman Islands. 

In this position, Martinez-Jaka embodies the spirit of Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). She guides policies; supports committees as they distribute grants, scholarships, and initiatives; and works with AVMA and other veterinary associations. In addition to improving transparency and communication within the organization, she has focused on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and increasing mentorship opportunities. She seeks to bring together all members of the veterinary health care team to "work towards creating a culture in our profession that empowers each other in the workplace.”

She notes that this is the most diverse executive board in SAVMA’s 52-year history. 

"I think we have a really solid team that has worked hard to grow the value of membership in SAVMA by modeling intersectional action on diversity, equity and inclusion; increasing our student opportunities and engagement; and creating new partnerships within SAVMA between our local chapters and with other professional students,” Martinez-Jaka said.

Immediately upon beginning her term as SAVMA president-elect in March of 2020, she faced unique challenges as pandemic restrictions changed veterinary education. Juggling presidential responsibilities with veterinary school is difficult enough, but the pandemic added extra hurdles. 

"I've been very thankful for how much Virginia-Maryland has supported me in allowing me to represent our school on this national stage," she said.  

Though the pandemic has canceled externships, shifted classes to Zoom and limited other opportunities, Martinez-Jaka remains optimistic, saying that veterinary students nationwide have developed new skills that will benefit them for years to come. 

Martinez-Jaka says that one of the most rewarding aspects of her presidency is when other students send her messages of appreciation because they, like her, did not grow up seeing themselves represented in veterinary medicine. 

“I may be the first woman of color to be SAVMA president, but my goal is that I'm not the last. In whatever I do, I want to make sure that students feel represented who haven't felt represented before."

Written by Sarah Boudreau M.F.A. '21, a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

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