Medicine

For Women and Animal Doctoring, It's a Love Affair

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.

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Georgia and other vet schools do have business classes.

"In my class when we have Q and A, the men would always pop up with the less PC questions like salary," said University of Georgia vet student Koren Moore Custer. "I think that has a lot to do with gender."

Melissa Kurz Johnson, also a University of Georgia vet student, said money is not her leading criterion. "If one position paid more but you didn't like the atmosphere as much or the people as much, I would choose the more constructive environment," she said.

Jessica Murdock, who graduates from the University of Georgia vet school in 2012, is interested in studying zoonotic diseases, those that can be transmitted to humans from animals. "There's a real shortage of food animal specialists and wildlife disease researchers," she said.

Veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Sue West, who practices near Toronto, Canada, has performed cataract surgery on elephants and snow leopards and corneal surgery on a moray eel.

She earned her degree in 1975, one of nine women in a graduating class of 63 at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical College in St. Paul, Minn. She remembers getting no encouragement for her career choice and occasionally open hostility from male classmates.

West welcomes the more level playing field for women now. She also sees generational changes, not necessarily tied to gender, as big advances in the field. These include improved treatment of laboratory animals, recognition and reporting of animal abuse and broader environmental awareness.

"A lot of those humane concerns come from a younger generation saying, 'No, I'm not willing to do that, let's find a better way," West said in a recent phone interview. "Young people are more willing to look at different options."

West said the work is highly rewarding. "Veterinarians have a high degree of satisfaction for their work, we really like what we're doing."

Marsha Walton covers science, technology, environment and space issues. She was a producer for CNN's science and tech unit for more than 10 years. Her work has also appeared on Mother Nature Network, Appalachian Voices, the National Science Foundation, Working Mother, and Milwaukee Magazine.

For more information:

University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine:
http://www.vet.uga.edu/

Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges:
http://www.aavmc.org/

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