While in the midst of clearing clutter during a recent home renovation, I found this statue, given to me by my mother, sometime around when I decided to become a veterinarian. That would have been sometime between 1979, and 1992 (the year I graduated veterinary school). Looking at it struck me that things have changed so much since Royal Doulton’s vision of a man in a lab coat represented my profession. If you were to think of a song that represented veterinary medicine in 1960 and prior, you might think “It’s Raining Men”. It you were to have a song represent the numbers of women graduating now, Helen Reddy would come to mind, belting out “I Am Woman”. No other profession has seen a gender shift such as this, and there are several postulated reasons for it.
Looking at the numbers, veterinary schools now enroll about 70% female students, and women members of the AVMA, our practicing registry, were reported to outnumber men for the first time in 2009. In 1960, 98% were men. But, what may be more important is the applicant pool statistics. In 1985, 44% were men, and by 1999, 28% were men. Another telling survey shows us that there are less men because they are avoiding the profession altogether. Between 1976 and 1995, male applicants dropped by nearly 1/2, with women applicants nearly doubling.
So, what are the reasons for this shift, and what are the implications? This picture of my adorable new neighbor wearing her veterinarian Halloween costume hints at it.
One suggested reason is the elimination of discrimination of gender biased applicant pools, the improvement in chemical restraint for animals, increased female role models in the profession, and the portrayal of vets on television and in books.
Suggested reasons for less men are applying include a reluctance to enter careers with low or stagnant incomes (ie. vet medicine, which is a sad but true statement), and a loss of autonomy due to the increased number of corporate owned practices. The most important reason of all may be the trend effect. Specifically, the more women in a field, the less men are drawn to it (think nursing).
This is the problem as we see it. There are wage inequalities based on gender in our field. It may be in part due to the fact that many women practice part time. More men veterinarians own practices than women veterinarians. More telling still is another study which showed that 38% of women practicing desired to be practice owners, compared to 61% of men. This is a trend that I have experienced my entire career.
Which leads me to my personal experience.
This is me with two of my fabulous assistants, at a street fair. When we are not there we are working. And, we are tending to our children, PTA, paying our bills at home, shopping, cooking for and feeding those families. With regards to the study about practice ownership, I was one of 64% of women veterinarians that did not desire to own my own practice. Yet, here I stand, corrected. What this picture says is so much. Here we are, 3 of the 4 women that make up our mobile vet practice, serving clients that are mainly women who work hard in the home and out of the home, with children, husbands and lives, just like us. We all used to work for several practices, coincidentally, mostly owned by men. I am not here to bash male practice owners, some better than others. In fact, my worst boss ever was a woman. Therefore, clearly, I am not suggesting that women should only work with or for women. All I can do is speak for myself, my experiences. Additionally, I enjoy having young future veterinarians drive along with us to house calls, particularly when they are young men. I think that we need both men and women in the profession, balancing out the field, hormones, etc. I would hate to see an all female veterinary field.
I too graduated with a class of about 100, mainly women. So many of them, men and women, have gone on to stellar careers, and I admire them enormously for it. But, I speak to many people who ask why there are so many women veterinarians. I thought this could shed some light on why, and be one of many resources for someone considering to join the profession.
For me, I have seen my profession evolve, sway in the public’s view, and it has change sexes with time. I didn’t choose it because it was a woman’s field, and I doubt that you select your veterinarian because he or she is male or female. I do it because I love it, and I sincerely hope that the veterinarian in your life makes you feel that he or she loves it as well, and that you have confidence in him or her.
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