Large animal dreams dashed: 'Horsey girls' in veterinary medicine
Ever thought you wanted to be a large animal vet? For a while, I did, too. 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 their parents to pay for it). They’d do anything for those creatures.
Fast-forward ten years and vet school’s in her sights. But all she hears after subjugating her life to the goal of veterinary medicine is that large animal girls don’t get far—not without the big balls it takes to beat the odds on that particular path.
Nonetheless, she works her a$$ off, beating her XY colleagues at every turn. She aces the tests, puts in double-time hours and slides into home with her surgical board certification just in time for…a pile of rejection letters.
The scenario’s not unheard of. In fact, it’s quite common. Equine vets of the feminine persuasion 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 would 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 come back to the topic of women in veterinary medicine. But this time it’s all about the women 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 or unwilling to do anything about them.
Part of the problem is that fewer vet students (of any sex) are choosing rural professions. And another portion is the result of fewer students electing to enter a field that specifically discriminates against them.
Women comprise the majority (about 75%) of vet students these days. A large percentage of them (if my experience is any guide) are “horsey girls” who’d happily enter equine or large animal medicine if the environment were conducive to their success.
But 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 in vet school. (It's subtle, but it's there.)
2-Women who (astutely) perceive it’ll 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 way disproportionate to that offered their male counterparts.
4-Women are too often (unfairly) rejected from entering the profession’s elite, thereby 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 out of both sides of its mouth on this one. But that’s somewhat understandable. Those of us who know vet medicine needs to produce a greater volume of large animal practitioners speak to it with earnest emphasis. Yet the veterinarians with green-light authority do not always act to further these lofty and removed 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 free of powers-that-be influence; they pull themselves up from the bootstraps their satisfied clients dangle in front of them.
But that’s no way to encourage a generation of talented women to take on work our nation’s in dire need of—equine, bovine, porcine, poultry or otherwise. Ultimately, something’s got to change in the inner workings of the large animal field to make women want to take on the boys. Offering a real opportunity? That’s just a start.