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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Changing Face Of Veterinary Medicine

One of this blog's readers works in veterinary medicine in New Zealand, and recently posted on her own blog about the gender changes in the profession (check it out here). What I find interesting is that this is a world-wide phenomenon. Though she's posting about conditions on the opposite side of the world, it holds equally true here in the US.

Historically medicine was a male-oriented field, with women being mostly in supporting roles. As gender equality has become more prevalent in society, and women have become accepted working full-time outside of the home, this has shifted considerably. In the hall of my veterinary college (North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine), there are pictures of every graduating class, with portraits of each student. The first class graduated in 1985, and I did in 1997. It was interesting to me to look at the framed class pictures, walk down the hall, and slowly see the increase in the number of women while the number of men decreased.

The trend has been growing rapidly. A few years ago the Minnesota vet school accepted their first 100% female class. About the same time it was reported that the population of practicing veterinarians was 50% female. My own veterinary class was 75% female. So I am quickly becoming a minority in my own field! Since the support staff is still almost entirely female, I have grown used to being the single male in just about every place I've worked. There is pretty much no topic about a woman's life, relationship, or bodily functions that I haven't heard!

Besides the simple fact of there being more X-chromosomes when you walk into your local vet's office, there are some other substantial changes that this gender shift are causing. Many female veterinarians want to have children and families. Once this happens, many don't want to work full time, preferring to split their time between children and practice. They also want time for maternity leave, fewer hard hours, and overall a better quality of life. Though there are many women businesspeople and practice owners, fewer are wanting this option than men. Historically women are also less likely to bargain aggressively for salary and benefits than men, which in part has led to women's pay falling behind men's. All of these factors are leading to more veterinarians working part-time for lower salaries and fewer being practice owners. And before you think I'm being sexist or biased, these are all facts that have been reported in veterinary journals in the last couple of years and are based on several surveys.

Most of this is really just affecting the business of veterinary medicine rather than the practice of it. Most clients will see few or no changes in the care their pets receive. Only those of us behind the scenes in the profession will reallly see how far-reaching these changes will be. But just like the rest of society, veterinary medicine is constantly changing and evolving. It will be interesting to look back on all of this in 20 years and see how far things really have come.