Ever thought you wanted to be a large animal vet? For a while, I did. I was one of those “horsey” girls. You know the ones — played the Pony Club, leased horses in middle school with spare change (or managed to find a way to get our parents to pay for it). We’d do anything for those creatures.

Fast-forward ten years and vet school is in my sights. But all I keep hearing, after subjugating my life to the goal of veterinary medicine, is that large animal girls don’t get far in this field — not without the hubris it takes to beat the odds on this particular path.

Nonetheless, many women who have devoted themselves to this discipline works their butts off, beating their XY colleagues at every turn. They put in double-time hours, ace the exams, and jump all the hurdles required to be awarded a surgical board certification ... just in time for a pile of rejection letters.

This scenario is not unheard of; in fact, it’s quite common. Equine vets of the feminine persuasion often find the going rough — even more so at its upper echelons.

How much does it suck to find that you’ve gotten board certified in large animal surgery just to find that you can’t find a job? And what does it take to beat someone less qualified than you when it comes to finding the job of your dreams?

Too often, it comes down to a minuscule Y chromosome.

For me, it’s always fun to discuss the topic of women in veterinary medicine. But this time it’s all about the women who are entering large animal medicine and how that translates in the real world.

Though the powers-that-be at the uppermost levels of the profession may frequently and vociferously decry the dearth of women in large animal medicine (read: equine and agriculture), they’re either unaware of the roadblocks that hinder these women, or unwilling to do anything about them.

Part of the problem is that fewer vet students (of any gender) are choosing rural professions. Add to that another portion of students who are electing not to enter a field that specifically discriminates against them, and it certainly would seem that women have little interest in the field of large animal medicine, but that would be misleading.

Women comprise the majority (about 75 percent) of vet students these days. A large percentage of them (if my experience is any guide) are “horsey girls”; young women who would happily enter equine or large animal medicine if the environment were more conducive to their long-term success.

The reality proves that women don’t often make it that far.

The mouthpieces of the profession’s large animal sector would have us think that women don’t have the guts to take it on. But my intelligence shows otherwise:

  1. Women are often discouraged from entering the field of large animal medicine once they have entered vet school (It's subtle, but it's there).
  2. Women who (astutely) perceive that it will be a tough climb sometimes elect for board certification in a particular large animal discipline, assuming their credentials will grant them access.
  3. Women are rebuffed, even after committing themselves to this kind of extended veterinary education, with a dearth of options that are way disproportionate to those made available to their male counterparts.
  4. Women are often, and unfairly, rejected from entering the profession’s elite hierarchy, consequently leaving a trail of failed dreams in their wake and ultimately discouraging present students from attempting to follow in their failed footsteps.

Let’s be honest. The veterinary profession is speaking from both sides of its mouth on this one, but that’s somewhat understandable. Those of us who know vet medicine know that we need to produce a greater volume of large animal practitioners, and we speak with earnest emphasis on the need to encourage both genders. Yet the veterinarians with green-light authority do not always act to further these lofty pursuits — they’d rather things stayed the same. Like most of us, they fear change.

That’s why the “horsey girls” can’t get a leg up to save their lives. Those with serious gumption take on low paying jobs and work their way into independent positions that are free of powers-that-be influence; they pull themselves up by their bootstraps by building a coterie of satisfied clients.

But that’s no way to encourage a generation of talented women to take on work our nation is in dire need of. We need medical professionals specializing in equine, bovine, porcine, poultry and everything in between. Ultimately, something’s got to change in the inner workings of the large animal field to make women more assured of success.

Dr. Patty Khuly