Categories: Veterinarians

Why are there many more women veterinarians nowadays?

Back in the 1960s 98% of veterinarians were men. Nowadays, in the USA, it is said that the current ratio is 55% female to 45% male. And in the future the differential will grow in favour of women. So what is happening? This photo made me think of this topic:

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

Layperson’s viewpoint

Initially, I’d like to look at the issue from a layperson’s standpoint. There are surveys on this but if you just stand back you have to conclude that one major reason is because women have the opportunity nowadays to become veterinarians. Society allows them to have careers whereas back in the 1960s there was more of an attitude that women should stay at home and be housewives in the shadow of their husbands. Women take that opportunity and go for veterinary work because they have higher levels of compassion, it is said (in general) than men. They are drawn to animal welfare because animals are vulnerable.

Helping animals through veterinary work helps the vulnerable and it appeals to a woman’s nurturing nature to do this work. It comes naturally to them. So the profession is suited to women in large part. I’m not going to say it is entirely suited because what about the surgery? I don’t know if anybody has discussed this aspect of veterinary work but it may be the case that in general men are better surgeons i.e. more dextrous. I don’t know so I am speculating.

Studies

To look at the issue in a slightly more technical manner and to refer to some research, in the US in 1972 anti-discriminatory legislation was enacted which made it illegal on the basis of gender to discriminate against women making applications to graduate programs. I don’t know much about it but it certainly sounds as if it’s a major factor.

In America more women apply to veterinary school than men. This simply falls in line with my previous statement that women have become free to follow a career path and may choose veterinary medicine.

An unusual proposal for this trend is that men prefer the company of men. As the veterinary profession is being feminised, men are leaving it. That’s an interesting proposition and it is clear that men are leaving it or not entering it. I’m not sure that the reason for this is because they don’t like being around women at work. Perhaps a more reasonable argument is that men are looking at other professions because they are higher paid.

Canada

A study was carried out with respect to the Canadian veterinary profession in 2003. In the abstract of that study they put forward four possible reasons for the feminisation of the veterinary profession namely, (1) anti-discrimination regulations on admission to the profession (2) improvement in chemical restraint for large animals (3) more female role models (4) the caring image of veterinarians portrayed on television and in books.

You have to add to that mix the decrease in male applicants. Their attribute this to (1) low incomes (2) a reduction in the number of independent veterinary practices – this is my interpretation of “loss of autonomy in the profession” and (3) as women enter the profession its prestige as a male occupation has been diminished which pushes men away from it.

Australia

An Australian study decided that whereas women chose a profession because of the love of animals and how veterinarians were portrayed on television together with a lifelong interest in veterinary work and the scientific study of disease, men were more interested in the desire to be independent of supervision and to seek financially attractive professions.

Self-serving cycle

The trend may be self-serving. That’s what is hinted at in the above study. What I’m saying is that if women enter the profession in greater numbers and they are less interested in earning big salaries, this can pull down the income levels of veterinarians generally which in turn makes it less attractive to men but not women. You can see that you create a cycle which favours women.

Owning a practice

Another American study indicated that men were more interested in owning their own practice than women. Thirty-eight percent of established female veterinarians wanted to own their own practice compared with 61% of male veterinarians. Men have been discouraged from entering the profession.

Profitability of independent practices

It appears that the profession has become more caring as a result but income levels have been depressed. This may make it harder for an independent practice to be profitable. If income levels are depressed it is perhaps harder to charge the customer enough to make a profit with stresses financially an independent practice. I know that in the UK, we are seeing independent practices selling out to veterinary chains indicating that it is too hard to make a decent living running your own practice as an independent operator.

On that note, as a customer of veterinarians, I prefer to use an independent practice rather than going to one of the big chains. Therefore this trend is disappointing to me. I think you get better service in independent practices. They are less greedy and more personal.

Declawing

In the USA, I have to refer to the declawing of cats. If, as is stated, there has been an increase in female veterinarians who are ostensibly more caring, you would have thought that declawing would fade out of the veterinary scene. It appears not to be although there has been some progress but it is too slow. Declawing is unacceptable and an aberration in the American venue profession.

P.S. I don’t expect the feminisation of the veterinary profession to be so pronounced in countries other than the West. It is primarily a European and North American development I would suggest. Wrong? Tell me please.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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