Women and Veterinary Medicine

The Dog Zombie has an interesting post discussing women in vet med–and why there are so many. She notes that her school is only 12% male, versus more of an even distribution in med schools, and the recent discussion of gender imbalance in science blogging. This is interesting to me, as my personal vet is male, as are almost all of the vets we collaborate with for our research. Of course, the gender distribution of veterinarians in academia may well be more gender-balanced (or even male-skewed) than those currently in vet school or recently graduated.

DZ posits some possible reasons for this divide:

-Vet med is often seen as a caretaking profession, something that may appeal strongly to more women than men.

-Why vet med and not human med? One difference is that vet med pays a lot less. Are women more tolerant of low pay than men?

I found a few articles on the gender differences; both suggest those factors as well as others. The 2003 Canadian article muses that veterinary medicine may become more like nursing–female-dominated and potentially lower-paying in the future. Both cite some statistics, but nothing that appears as thorough as some of the AAAS women-in-science type of studies. Does the AVMA have a committee on women’s issues, or pay much attention to these reasons?

Comments

  1. #1 Rhabdovet
    September 30, 2010

    Female vet student here: I see two main reasons for a more gender balanced academia (and in private specialty practitioners). First, the shift to the majority of women in vet school is fairly recent, so over time I think we’ll see a similar shift (as the old white men die, we won’t have a choice, really). And second, one of the supposed draws to vet med is the ability find a job more amenable to raising a family (part time jobs). Does this have serious consequences for the future of vet med (e.g. business ownership and lack of leadership in academia)? Perhaps, but at my school at least, there is a strong female faculty presence(clinical and research) and a majority of my classmates are interested in internships/residencies and other advanced career paths. We certainly need to be aware of the issues and keep the conversation going. But if anything, I look at this as a great opportunity for women to be leaders in a scientific/medical field which is much harder to do in the traditionally male dominated fields.

  2. #2 travc
    September 30, 2010

    I wonder how much of med school is populated by people fulfilling parental and/or societal expectations? VetMed, not so much.

    Anyway, VetMed seems a lot less ‘A type personality’. I’m not saying it is easy or anything, but it you aren’t signing up for 80+ hour work weeks.

    That said, IIRC, there is very high demand for vets. I’ve been told that top tier vet-med schools are actually just as difficult to get into as top tier med schools. Though I’m guessing that you’re not competing against so many pathological cases … ugh, I hated teaching pre-meds.

  3. #3 Reed A. Cartwright
    September 30, 2010

    Women are more sensible than men in the health professions. They are more likely to look for areas that offer 9-5 working hours.

  4. #4 ObSciGuy (Paul)
    September 30, 2010

    I noticed the same thing in grad school (most vet students were female) and wondered a few thing I never followed up on.

    1. Is this an international trend or an American one?

    2. How do undergrads get funneled into vet school vs. similar alternatives? Do faculty gender, advisor gender, etc. correlate?

    3. How many male vs. female DVMs go into research vs. private clinics, etc.? What are the post-vet-school gender differences?

  5. #5 stripey_cat
    September 30, 2010

    A decade ago, when I had friends going into vet med courses as undergrads, there was a huge female bias towards small animal practice, and a moderate male bias still towards large animal (ie farmstock and equine) and exotic practice. Is that still the case? The assumptions at the time (explained to me by a female specialising in pigs) was that large animal practice involved lots of farm visits, pigshit, wrestling angry breeding males, and dealing with the male-dominated farming industry; while small animal practice was all about vaccinating kittens and taking money off middle-class families.

  6. #6 Tara C. Smith
    September 30, 2010

    stripey_cat, that’s one thing DZ mentioned in her post–that the use of chemical restraints for large animals has allowed more women to enter that field, rather than just sticking with small animals. But working with farmers myself, yeah, sometimes I feel like the odd man out and I’m sure female vets would feel much the same way.

    OSG–no idea, but good questions. I also wonder if places with pre-vet programs see more men interested initially, and if their interest wanes or switches as they go through the program; and also if vet school applications are equally slanted or if more men are applying, but not being accepted.

    Reed–but we see the same trend in medicine, where women are also increasing despite not frequently being “9 to 5.”

  7. #7 JGlenn
    September 30, 2010

    Much of this was investigated by the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition report:
    http://www.avma.org/fsvm/fsvmc/default.asp

    The FSVMC led a series of investigations into career and recruitment trends in food supply veterinary medicine, but was comprehensive enough to delve into gender issues in the veterinary field in general (US and Canada). Among others, one of the key drivers of increased female proportion was the (insanely) competitive nature of the vet school admissions. As previously mentioned, more women are performing at the elite levels required.

    Further, males have historically (and continue to) self-select into large animal and food supply veterinary practice. The FSVMC study #19 notes that almost half of new (less than 5 years experience) food animal veterinarians are worried about their financial security. When you combine low income (~$55,000 US) with a high education costs ($200,000 in debt is not uncommon) then it will be difficult to recruit the elite students that would be able to make it through the admissions process.
    Fewer large animal vets = fewer males = present gender disparity.

    That is a very simplified portion of the entire report, but is one of the key interactions that stays on topic here :)

    There is a lot of information hidden in that huge dataset, it would be interesting to mine it specifically for gender issues.

  8. #8 JGlenn
    September 30, 2010

    Forgot to address OSG’s questions:

    1. Is this an international trend or an American one?

    The trend is seen in North America. I seem to recall that the gender difference was biased slightly towards males in European schools, but I do not have a citation.

    2. How do undergrads get funneled into vet school vs. similar alternatives? Do faculty gender, advisor gender, etc. correlate?

    The vast majority of veterinary students have decided to pursue vet school by the time they begin their undergraduate career. Positive experience with a veterinarian and/or food production were the most significant drivers of veterinary career choice.

    3. How many male vs. female DVMs go into research vs. private clinics, etc.? What are the post-vet-school gender differences?

    Trends seen in 1st year students, 3 & 4th years students, and early-career veterinarians are similar. With the exception of food animal specialty (a near 50/50 split)the trend exists in varying degrees in the vet specialties, with the largest gender gap occurring in small animal practice.

  9. #9 The Dog Zombie
    September 30, 2010

    Tara: thanks for the followup post! I would be shocked, shocked I say to find out that the AVMA has any sort of committee on women’s issues. I’m pretty sure I’d have heard it mentioned in JAVMA news if so.

    Travc: I would like to respectfully disagree about type A personality vet students. My school is full of students who are insanely hardworking and grade-obsessed. When someone once suggested a mixer with a nearby med school, one of my classmates responded that it was depressing to hang out with med students “because they work so much less hard than we do.” I don’t know if there are more career opportunities for vets to work part time than doctors post-graduation. Surely primary care physicians and some specialists in human medicine can work short hours?

    …Reading this conversation, I find myself wondering about gender disparity among veterinary specialists. I see faculty (all specialists) at my school working long hours. I wonder if fewer women in vet med tend to become specialists, because they are not up for the long hours of internship + residency? At my school, I feel as though the gender gap is smaller among residents, but there are so many fewer of them than the students that it’s hard to say. I definitely notice that the surgery residents and faculty are heavily male-dominated at my school, though!

  10. #10 Mary
    September 30, 2010

    How things have changed! I was planning on veterinary school until it became clear that women were not being accepted in the school nearest to me — and the med schools were taking as many as 10% women. It just seemed easier to go with the humans.

  11. #11 red pepper
    October 13, 2010

    There is a lot of information hidden in that huge dataset, it would be interesting to mine it specifically for gender issues.

  12. #12 Alison
    October 15, 2010

    In South Africa, veterinary science is still male dominated.

  13. #13 Anne Lincoln
    November 2, 2010

    Hi – I just came across your post. My research on this topic has been recently published.

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-11/smu-vmb110210.php

    I studied the key period of feminization of the veterinary colleges, 1975-1995, and found that women and men respond the same to salaries. Instead, the shift was driven by Title IX, falling graduation rates of men, and male flight from the colleges.

    I’m glad to see interest in this topic!

    Anne E. Lincoln

  14. #14 Oyunu oyna
    November 9, 2010

    -Vet med is often seen as a caretaking profession, something that may appeal strongly to more women than men.

  15. #15 LJ
    November 14, 2010

    In my area (Washington, DC), the small animal vets are at least 50% women, and the younger vets even more likely to be female.

    Based on current fees, there seems to be no imminent danger to veterinarian’s livelihoods.

  16. #16 Formula 16
    December 11, 2010

    Yes good question; I would like to respectfully disagree about type A personality vet students. My school is full of students who are insanely hardworking and grade-obsessed. When someone once suggested a mixer with a nearby med school, one of my classmates responded that it was depressing to hang out with med students “because they work so much less hard than we do.” I don’t know if there are more career opportunities for vets to work part time than doctors post-graduation. Surely primary care physicians and some specialists in human medicine can work short hours?

  17. #17 christian
    February 11, 2011

    I am in complete disagreement with the Type A personality quip. Vet school in the UK is considered harder to gain entry to than many Oxbridge degrees and medicine, and character is very highly selected for. You’ve been drinking too much tea.

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