Why are 80% of new veterinarians in the UK women?

In the UK, 80% of new veterinarians are women as at the date of this post which is January 30, 2022. There’s been quite a definitive shift from men to women in the veterinary profession. There was a time when women were quite scarce at vet practices but they now dominate substantially. In America, an article of June 12, 2007 asked why women were crowding into veterinary medicine schools. At that time, 88% of graduates at Cornell were women. However, most senior veterinarians were still male at that time. Canada has also seen a big increase in female vets.

Cat at a veterinary clinic
Cat at a veterinary clinic. Photo: Pixabay.
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Less men not more women

It’s interesting but the experts writing online don’t tell me the reason why there’s been this lurch towards women in the veterinary profession. They don’t know for sure. In UK, there is also a shortage of veterinarians. The two might be linked.

Because nobody is telling me why 80% of new veterinarians in the UK are women, I’m going to argue that although there is an increase in the number of women applying to be veterinarians, the main reason for the massive imbalance in new vets is because men are not applying to the veterinary schools. Men don’t want to be vets any more. In other words, there is a negative reason behind the imbalance. And the reason for that is probably because it is a hard job and it doesn’t pay well enough when bearing in mind the four years of training that it takes to become a vet and the 50-hour weeks they have to perform to make a decent living.

In other words, veterinarians are not rewarded like doctors despite the training being similar. Men can imagine themselves working in more profitable professions.

Women choose veterinary medicine because it is a caring profession. It does fit in quite nicely with the female psyche. It appeals to them and that is the primary motivator not money. The job also has a social standing which satisfies women.

However, some people blame women for the shortage of veterinarians in the UK (men are blaming women ??). That might sound sexist and misogynistic. We don’t know whether it’s true or not. The argument is that women are more likely to take career breaks to have children. When they return to the workplace, they are more likely to work part-time. This reduces the number of veterinarians available to the paying public. Men are less likely to take shared parental leave i.e. take time off to care for their child.

Another factor is that as there are more women in the profession the income of veterinarians may be suppressed because women are more likely to accept a lower income. It looks as though it is a self-generating problem. It is circuitous. Women enter the profession and are offered and accept lower wages. Men leave the profession because the wages aren’t good enough. Women continue to enter the profession driven by the type of work rather than the wages. This maintains the cap on wages which further alienates men.

There is another factor in the UK I would argue. Independent veterinarians are being bought up by hedge funds and big corporate businesses. They’ve got shareholders. They need to make healthy profits. Veterinary medicine has historically undercharged their clients. The corporate nature of modern veterinary practices puts a squeeze on veterinarians to earn more money. They themselves aren’t earning enough money but they are squeezed to make more profit. This is unattractive to a lot of men but perhaps accepted more often by women because they do the job for the love of the job. And I can see the men in suits cynically deciding to pay women less than men to keep costs down.

The shortage of veterinarians in the UK has led to bringing in veterinarians from continental Europe. Brexit, no doubt, has affected this but they are still coming. I would argue that veterinarians from countries like Romania and Bulgaria are going to accept even lower wages quite happily because the average wage in Bulgaria is much lower than in the UK. This also suppresses the incomes of veterinarians in veterinary practices to the point where British men simply don’t want to be a vet as it is not profitable enough. There are other professions which are less problematic and better paid.

Female trainee veterinarians
Female trainee veterinarians. Photo: Humane Society London and Middlesex.

Veterinary medicine-the profession

It’s a tough profession, I think. I am not a veterinarian but it is obvious to me that it is a tough job. Some women may think that it is hazardous to pregnant women because of the possibility of contracting a zoonotic disease such as toxoplasmosis which can affect pregnancy. But apparently in a study in Finland female veterinarians are not at greater risk of a spontaneous abortion. Arguably, as a difficult and responsible job, it is unpaid according to some men.

I wonder, too, if because of the physicality of say veterinarians working at farms, that women might tend to drop out of the profession sooner than men. I’ve not seen any data on that. I am just making a suggestion. This may be a partial reason why there is a shortage of vets in the UK.

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