Animal People: Niccole Bruno, DVM
Veterinarian, Founder and CEO of Blend
Veterinarians are known for being compassionate and dedicated — and Dr. Niccole Bruno has taken her calling a step further by striving to make the field of veterinary medicine inclusive for all animal lovers. Dr. Bruno founded Blend, a veterinary hospital certification program in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) after experiencing obstacles in her own career. Today, Blend is leading the transformation of veterinary team culture and creating opportunities for future animal welfare professionals to make a lifesaving difference. She shares her passion for uplifting both animals and people in our Animal People interview.
Dr. Bruno with her cat Sushi Roll and dog Jimmy Choo
What first sparked your interest in veterinary medicine?
Dr. Bruno as a little girl in Queens
I grew up in Queens, NY in an apartment complex. We didn’t have a parking space so we would need to wait for a spot — sometimes for hours. While we would sit and wait for parking, I would see a lot of stray animals in the neighborhood and it made me cry. I wanted to take every one of them in, but couldn’t because we were not allowed to have pets. Instead, my mother would allow me to use my allowance to go to the bodega and purchase food for them. Soon, I had a little parade of animals who would follow my sister and me for food. I realized that I wanted to do more to help them, so I declared my interest in veterinary medicine. Shortly after, my younger sister Jasmine said she was going to be a veterinarian, too, and that changed my perspective. I knew I needed to pave the way for her..
Were there any animals in particular who made a lasting impact on your life?
Dr. Bruno's childhood cat, "Pretty Boy"
I begged my parents for a Siamese cat after seeing “Lady and the Tramp.” A good friend of my mom’s owned two Siamese cats and they happened to have a litter. My mom broke down and let my sister and I get one. I will never forget my parents surprising me. I picked a classic seal point who I named Pretty Woman — the movie was popular at the time. We took the cat to the veterinarian for vaccines and I was told that my kitten was in fact a boy. The vet suggested I change his name to Pretty Boy, and at that point he was responding to Pretty, so we kept it.
That cat was influential in not only my life but my sister’s as well, as she’s also a veterinarian. We shared an unforgettable bond. Pretty Boy ended up getting a lot of diseases (thyroid disease, mast cell tumor, diabetes ketoacidosis, pancreatitis, renal disease) and that made me a better clinician for my patients and their owners. Despite all these diseases, he lived until he was 19 years old, when I was already a veterinarian and my sister was finishing up her undergraduate degree.
What were your early experiences like in the animal welfare industry?
I initially shadowed at a small animal hospital in high school, where I learned husbandry and participated in some appointments. When I went to college, I had an opportunity to be an extern at two pharmaceutical companies and see different pathways within the industry — veterinary services and toxicology. Both made me realize that while the industry was something I was interested in, I didn’t see myself on that path. During my third year in vet school, I had an externship at the ASPCA Henry Bergh Memorial Hospital and that made me realize how much I wanted to work in the hospital setting. I am grateful to have had many different experiences which helped to narrow down where I fit best in veterinary medicine.
How have your experiences with animals impacted your goals in life?
My experience owning small animals is what drove me to pursue small animal medicine and why I have practiced for 16 years. My externships allowed me to see what environments weren’t for me, but I could appreciate my colleagues who do that important work. Recently, my perspective has shifted to addressing work culture because it directly impacts our relationships as colleagues and also with our clients. Since our clients own the animals, it has made me realize that to better advocate for them I must ensure that the veterinary professionals who speak to their owners are prepared to meet their needs.
What did you set out to do when you founded Blend?
My initial goal in founding Blend was to create a universal veterinary hospital certification program that allowed all hospital roles to learn about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Historically, this content was only offered to leadership and middle management, who are only a portion of the hospital culture. We all contribute to our hospital’s culture, and we all engage with people of diverse backgrounds. It is important to learn this work together. I now see that many people in veterinary medicine want to do better at creating inclusive environments but often struggling with taking that first step. Blend is prepared to meet them where they are and help to develop a framework that works for their needs.
What does it mean to you to be able to uplift the next generations of veterinary professionals through Blend?
It means a lot to me. I have felt a responsibility to leave this profession better than how I entered it. I have carried that feeling for my entire career, especially knowing that my younger sister, Dr. Jasmine Bruno, was pursuing veterinary medicine for herself. Watching my sister navigate her own path and reach similar obstacles in this profession drove me to do the work of mentorship and pipeline development. Now that I am a mother, I feel more of an obligation to ensure that this profession creates environments for underrepresented children that are welcoming. My experiences in veterinary medicine have not always made me feel as if I belonged and Blend is an opportunity to address that need.
What are some of the impacts that animals have on your daily life?
As a veterinarian, I enjoy taking care of pets but I know a huge part of that involves client education. My job is to ensure that their owners understand their role in treating them so they get the care they need.
As a mother, it is important for me to see my children appreciate having animals, taking care of them and forming the human-animal bond. I enjoy seeing them interact with them, specifically my son as he had been historically hesitant around pets. But the bond he has with our cat makes me smile.
Who are your current pets?
I have a dog named Jimmy Choo. He came into my life early on in my career — he had distemper as a puppy and he presented for having seizures. His owners relinquished him back to the pet store and I was on call working the ER. This little shih-poo puppy would not stop having seizures, despite multiple anticonvulsant IVs and a constant rate infusion (CRI). I told the staff that if I came in the next morning and he still wasn’t better I would euthanize him. On the third day, I came in and Jimmy was sitting in this fish tank just looking around as if nothing happened. We got him back to health and the staff encouraged me to take him in because we had bonded — he would eat Cheerios with me during rounds. At the time, I had a designer theme name for my dogs, so I chose something that went with Fendi (my Pekepoo). Jimmy has been my companion and baby since before my husband and children, and has moved across the country with me. I am blessed he is still with me almost 15 years later.
I also have Sushi Roll, who was found by a coworker at the onset of the pandemic. He looked so much like a Siamese cat and reminded me of Pretty Boy, so I decided I would keep him as a hospital cat. Sushi became the light in our hospital since we went curbside, and he was a source of consistent affection for us. When I decided to pursue Blend full time and left my hospital, I brought Sushi home with me. He has acclimated very well to our house and loves my children so much. Even my husband has grown to love him.
Learn more about Dr. Bruno’s work through Blend at blend.vet.
Published: December 5, 2022