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Saturday, August 9, 2014

I'm A Dying Breed

This weekend I'm attending a veterinary conference, something I've done every year for nearly two decades.  I've been to so many that I don't typically think much about it, other than which lecture I'm going to attend, how many free pens I can get, and how much my butt starts to hurt from sitting so much.  But this year something struck me as rather different.

There were hardly any young men.

It's been years since it was announced that the profession had hit the tipping point at there were at least as many female vets in practice as males.  And for 20 or more years veterinary classes have been 75-80% women.  While I knew all of that in principle, it was a bit shocking to see it play out so clearly.  As I looked around the conference and started paying attention I noticed women of all ages, from late 20s on up to nearing retirement.  But I was having a hard time finding any men under 40!  Seriously, almost every male vet I saw was anywhere from 40s to 60s.  For a while I just stood and watched people pass through the vendor hall and it was several minutes before I finally saw a man that I pegged as in his 30s.  While the overall distribution of males to females seemed pretty even, the age difference really stood out.

And it's going to get worse.  Men dominated the profession up until the last 20-30 years, so it makes sense that these older vets will be retiring with greater frequency, leaving younger vets to continue the profession.  And those younger folks are overwhelmingly female.  At current graduation rates it's pretty obvious that as a man I'm a bit of a dying breed, and by the time I retire I'll be in a demographic that makes up around 25% or less of the profession.

Now please don't get me wrong and think I'm sexist.  I have absolutely no problem with women, I think they can be just as good as men in this profession, and both of my associate doctors are female.  I've also worked in this profession for around 30 years, the majority of that time surrounded by women (veterinary paraprofessionals are closer to 90% female).  Being a rare male doesn't bother me in the least.  I just find it interesting to start seeing this shift in the profession so clearly.


  1. Internationally true.... Will be interesting to see the impact it has on clinic ownership. It might result in vets just being employed at animal health centres. The current trend in NZ is towards nationwide chains so more women might risk partnerships.... Sadly the trend is purely because the pay is no longer attracting men... Prob true of human nursing too... Quite sure many men still want to be vets but don't apply, or sadly, get lower grades and fail to get in. No simple answer to that but the profession is trying to make it possible for women to work flexible hours and accommodate children into the career and that means we have to step up to the plate to maintain the profession as a whole in the future.

  2. I was interested to read this since I have seen the same thing happening in pharmacy. At one time, most pharmacists were men, and they owned their own stores. When I graduated in 1991, about half of my class were men. Now, the majority of pharmacy students are women, most of the small independent pharmacies have closed or been bought out by the big chains, and most pharmacists are employees rather than owners.

    It does sometimes seem that as a profession loses its prestige (and its financial rewards?), the men move out and the women move in. But which comes first? Hard to say.


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