Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Women Veterinarians

This article comes as little surprise to those of us in the field, but it provides an interesting perspective: (I threw in a couple of pictures of my classmates in surgery lab)

Women dominate admissions in veterinary schools -- MercuryNews.com

"Odd hours, physical labor, blood, dirt and the occasional bite or kick. For generations, women were told veterinary medicine was too tough for them.

But now, that longtime bastion of machismo is overwhelmingly female. Changes in culture, pharmacology and even pet preferences have led to one of the most dramatic gender shifts in the workforce.

Eighty percent of the applicants accepted this month by the University of California-Davis' prestigious veterinary school are women. Similar numbers are reported by other vet schools around the country.

Plenty of other once male-dominated fields, such as law and medicine, are experiencing a surge in female students. But nowhere has the gender shift been as dramatic as in vet medicine.

In the past four decades, the number of women enrolled in colleges of veterinary medicine has skyrocketed from about 140 to 8,000. Women's increasing confidence in math and science is giving them a new edge in the fiercely competitive admissions process, experts say. In the mid-1970s, three-quarters of all students were male. Now the numbers are reversed.

"It's unbelievable to watch how it's changed," said Rance LeFebvre, UC-Davis' associate dean of student affairs. "Women are 100 percent capable of doing anything that's out there."

When UC-Davis Professor Carol Cardona graduated from vet school in 1990, she drove eight hours to apply for a job at a dairy farm. "I didn't even get to be interviewed by the vet," she

said. "I was interviewed by his wife. The big question was: 'Why do I want to work with cows?'

"At the time, everyone said that a woman isn't strong enough to handle a cow. Well, a man isn't either," Cardona said. "A cow is 100 times stronger than a man and 100.5 times stronger than me. That's not a real argument."

Education equity laws and a changing perception of women in the workforce are among the significant developments that helped set the stage for veterinary medicine's transformation. Another key change: better drugs.

"We call the tranquilizer Dormosedan 'the great equalizer,' " joked Belmont equine vet Kristin Dietrich.

While farm-based practices still require fitness, improved drugs and handling techniques mean that brute strength is less important, said UC-Davis veterinary Professor John Madigan. "The older practitioners used more muscle. Now vets work smarter."

Physical danger was a greater threat in America's more rural past. Back then, most work dealt with horses and cows - creatures whose medical emergencies often occur in remote pastures, sometimes in the cold, the dark and the rain. To pull a trapped calf from a laboring cow, for instance, a vet must reach shoulder-deep into a bloody birth canal.

As farms give way to subdivisions, vets are increasingly treating a different kind of patient: the family pet. These small-animal clinics allow more time to raise a family, with flexible hours, part-time work and job sharing, said UC-Davis equine vet Professor W. David Wilson.

Women students say they are attracted to newly emerging high-end specialty care, such as kidney transplants, cancer chemotherapy, back surgery, MRI and titanium hip-joint replacements. Many enjoy treating the increasingly popular "pocket pets," like rodents, as well as exotic birds and reptiles.

Modern vet practices also rely more on building strong relationships with people, something many women said they enjoy. There are no insurance companies telling them what to do.

"What we do is motivational speaking. You can't convince a dog or cat to take their medicine - you have to influence the owner," Cardona said. "I think that's something that many women excel at."

The young men at UC-Davis' veterinary school say many of their classmates in calculus and organic chemistry pursued fields that pay more. The average salary of a vet is about $75,000; the average internist makes $175,000.

"My family said: 'You've gone through all that work - why not be a doctor?' " said Andrew Ichord of Hickman, a town in the Central Valley. "Vets aren't as glamorous. People think you've gone through a two-year trade school or something."

Noted UC-Davis' Madigan: "Some men say: 'I could spend eight years in school - and get paid less than the Sears repairman?' Women see that they're paid less and say: 'What else is new?' "

Elena Shirley admits she initially hesitated when, at age 37, she decided to switch from a career in international development to vet medicine. "I asked people: 'Am I crazy?' But I love it. It's great to be part of a solution."

"For me, it's a big deal to see so many young women here doing top-level work," Shirley said. "But for them, it feels completely normal."

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