By Marsha Walton
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Whatever other love affairs women may have to celebrate this Valentine's Day, it's now official that something's going on in the field of veterinary medicine. Women dominate every single U.S. vet school and have taken the lead among practitioners.
(WOMENSENEWS)--If you have a sick pet or livestock animal on your hands, it's increasingly likely that you'll be reaching out to a woman for help.
While many scientific fields still seem to belong to the guys, women began dominating veterinary science in the mid-1980s.
By 1986 enrollment in veterinary schools was about 50-50. But women have been in the majority every year since at all 28 U.S. veterinary colleges, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, based in Washington, D.C. In 2010, women take 78 percent of the seats in veterinary schools.
Dr. Sheila Allen, dean of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, one of five female deans at U.S. veterinary schools, said the explanation is simple.
"Veterinary medicine is a career that has always attracted women," Allen told Women's eNews in a recent interview. Once quotas and other intentional barriers were gone, she said, women quickly started to fill classrooms and clinics.
The flood of women into vet schools means that now female veterinarians slightly outnumber male counterparts, with 44,802 women practicing in 2009 compared to 43,196 men, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Improvements in drugs and technology have also helped open the field to women, said Dr. Corrie Brown, a professor of pathology at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
For large-animal doctors especially, a veterinary practice is still a very physical job. But Brown, an expert on emerging diseases and agro-terrorism, said brute strength and "arm-strong anesthesia"--as in, you'd better have very strong arms to deal with calving cows and bucking horses--is less important due to advances in methods of providing medications.
Lisa Greenhill, associate executive director for diversity at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, said the field is among the most respected of occupations, yet greatly undervalued.
"Everyone loves their vet, nobody wants to pay their vet," she said.
When U.S. working women are paid just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, the feminization of this profession is a concern, said Greenhill.
In 2008 the median annual wages of a veterinarian were $79,050, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For primary care physicians they were $186,044 and $339,738 for surgeons.
Greenhill said vets are not only undervalued in pay, but also in the understanding of their critical expertise in areas such as public health, food safety and global disease transmission.
Shortly after the deadly anthrax letters started arriving at news organizations and on Capitol Hill after the 9/11 attacks, for instance, Greenhill recalls attending a meeting of medical and emergency strategists. She said no veterinarians were invited even though anthrax is a cattle disease.
As more women run their own veterinary practices, they may help to make offices more fair and flexible for female employees. But that hasn't always been the case.
For pathologist Brown, it was tough going starting a family.
"I had my son when I was working in Louisiana. I went back to work two weeks later, never missed a beat," Brown said. "It's the biggest regret of my life. I didn't want them to have any reason to say, 'She's not pulling her weight.'"
But now lots of female practice owners "get it," said the University of Georgia's Allen.
When it comes to starting pay, however, Allen says young vets have to watch out.
"They leave here with a debt of $100,000 to $120,000. And it's not like having a 30-year mortgage. Most places want you to pay back the loans in 10 years," she said.