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Veterinary Medicine:  Can a Woman-Dominated Profession Survive?

Posted by Lori Hehn on January 28, 2016 at 6:00 AM
Lori Hehn
Lori Hehn is a practicing veterinarian and has a drive for continual learning and enjoys interacting with veterinary and vet tech students. She also writes veterinary learning books for children.

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As we have all noted, the profession of veterinary medicine is largely becoming more and more female. Why exactly is that and what does this mean for the future of the profession? 

It does vary, but most schools are reporting close to an 80% female student population. How has this shifted so dramatically? The AVMA reported in 2009 that for the first time, females outnumbered their male counterparts and since then the same is true.

Here are some considerations as to why the shift has occurred:

  • More women than men are graduating with bachelor's degrees, and more women are pursuing higher education. 
  • It doesn't pay enough. Some suggest that men are seeking higher paying jobs. Veterinarians make on average 80-90,000 per year, while primary care physicians can make upwards of 186,000. Surgeons in human medicine can make >340,000 per year (and these numbers are already outdated). Factor in the ever increasing student debt burden and men are not as interested. Is it because women may be more likely to disregard the financial part and follow their heart to be the vet they had always envisioned? Does that seem harsh? Perhaps, but I know when I wanted to go to vet school, nothing was going to stop me- not even a large amount of student debt. In retrospect, I wish I had a clearer perspective on these statistics, but even since I was in school almost 11 years ago, student tuition has close to doubled! 
  • Work/life balance is getting easier in our profession. Women often want to start a family and have to balance the needs of their children with their jobs. Because it is more widely accepted, and veterinary medicine has become more flexible (a great thing I think as a veterinarian and mom), women are more comfortable seeking a veterinary education.
  • Female professionals tend to marry male professionals. If their spouses have higher salaries, they may not worry as much about their own salary, but also may not be as likely to want to own their own practice or take on a leadership role in the profession. This may be why male veterinarians have higher salaries than their female counterparts, as men are more likely to be practice owners. Men are also more inclined to ask for raises or be more business minded vs. more emotionally charged, and women are more giving in nature and may be afraid to ask for more, some things not often considered when evaluating the gender wage gap in our profession.

Reasons aside, how will this impact the profession down the road?

What I have gathered is that in general, women are less likely to become a practice owner. Only 24% of women want to be practice owners, while 45% of men want to be practice owners. 

Even though the percent is higher for males, they are still less likely to want to own a practice now than they were a few years ago. The balance of life and work is starting to take priority, and ownership seems like more work and stress and no play.

Practices are getting harder to sell due to the high price tags owners are putting on their practices making new graduates not interested or unable to buy, and seasoned veterinarians more likely just to start their own practice if ownership is something they want.

What has happened it seems is an ever growing population of corporate practices. Less mom and pop shops and more corporate hospitals seems a little disappointing to me, not to say anything bad about these corporate hospitals.

When I think about the movement in human medicine in that direction, it does make me worried about the long-term consequences. It seems that the profession will definitely survive, but we may start to see more streamlined corporate medicine in the future.

What are your thoughts? Why do you think there has been such a shift in this profession? 

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Topics: Career, Hot Topics

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