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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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 Is your veterinarian a woman? If he isn’t, chances are the one you use a few years from now will be. Why? Because veterinary medicine is undergoing a dramatic wave of "feminization."

In 1960, the veterinary field consisted of 98 percent men. It is 50.9 percent female today, a number that will only increase in the future as "old" male vets retire and current veterinary students, who are 70-80 percent female, graduate and enter practice.

A study published in the July 2010 issue of Social Forces looked into the reasons why the veterinary field has undergone such a dramatic transition.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the whole paper (it’s 42 pages long and I’m no sociologist, but if you want to take a look, I’d love to hear your thoughts). I did skim it over and read a few articles reporting on its findings, however, and was really shocked at what I found. Here’s a sample of what the author, Anne E. Lincoln, reports in her paper:

…research suggests that men avoid college majors and graduate academic fields that are between 24 and 54 percent female.

…for every 1 percent increase in women in the veterinary college student body, about 1.7 fewer men will apply the subsequent year. By comparison, each $1,000 increase in tuition reduces the number of applications from men to a college by about 1.2.

…the results of this study demonstrate only one consistent difference between male and female application patterns — men’s strong negative response to women’s increasing enrollment. Consequently, the notion that the engine of feminization is fueled by women who are inordinately attracted to veterinary medicine appears flawed — the feminization of veterinary medicine is really the demasculinization of veterinary medicine, driven by men’s lower rates of college graduation and their aversion to the presence of women students.

Really guys? You see a roomful of female pre-vet students and you head for the mechanical engineering class in the next building. What’s up with that?

The paper also offers potential reasons why men behave in this manner:

…the presence of women in an occupation may signal to prospective male entrants that the field has undesirable remunerative, promotional, or prestige characteristics.

Ahhh, that has a ring of truth to it. Nurses, teachers, child care providers — all professions dominated by women that are constantly struggling for the respect and pay that they deserve. I guess we can add veterinary medicine to the list now.

This paper also made me wonder whether the feminization of veterinary medicine could have anything to do with declining veterinary visits. Are you guys out there less likely to bring your pet to a clinic if it is staffed by female receptionists, technicians, and doctors? Maybe that is fodder for another study.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: Fancy girls, sweet dog by Rachel

Comments  5

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  • Human Doctors
    04/18/2011 06:26am

    Is this also true of human medicine? Years ago it seems like almost all M.D.s were male. Today we have a choice if we have a preference of gender.

    I wonder if perhaps the number of male veterinary students is declining because it's HARD to get into vet school and a greater percentage of accepted applicants are female.

  • Worth Mentioning
    04/18/2011 11:17am

    The number of male applicants for nursing schools has dramatically increased in the last few years. The vast majority are still women, but men are applying more than ever before. In California and New York, it's not unusual to see about half and half in the larger cities/hospitals.

    Maybe it's just that certain professions like doctors, nurses, vets, etc., don't have a "sex" attached to it as much as it once did.

    Or maybe it's more common in a lot of professions to see a leveling out of "a man's job" vs. "a woman's job."

  • Its the Money Mostly
    04/18/2011 05:08pm

    Men do not go to veterinary medicine as much because of the fewer professional and financial opportunities the profession now offers. Even in the higher paying veterinary specialties, men look at the return on their investment more than "psychic" rewards which seem to motivate women more than money. Plus men are just different in that the "touchy feely" aspects of the profession are not just as much as part of their makeup as women. I think that is a big reason why so very few women pursue engineering careers. Plus with an engineering degree, men will be making as much as women with a DVM with less debt and a wider array of opportunities. Let's face it most geeks in any field of technology from cars to computers are men.

    Men who might have become veterinarians maybe are now becoming the nurses because of the greater opportunities. For example, over a third of nurse anesthetists are men and the mid $100,000 salaries certainly have to be very attractive when these jobs only require an additional master's degree and 27 months of training. In medicine, I have seen studies that show that men are more attracted to higher paying and often more demanding areas versus primary practice. The financial incentives to men are very important and probably outrank other "psychic" rewards.

    There are some additional studies done by economists George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton on how "identity" in occupations,schooling and gender affect choices. Their theory is based on how the particular contextual identity (in occupation in this example) provide increased utility to the person in addition to the financial or other tangible rewards. Another example they use is the military where although salaries are lower, a lot of men choose that career based on its "identity" of being part of a team and doing something good that is bigger than yourself. Kind of sounds like veterinary medicine in some ways.

    Maybe the reason fewer men are choosing veterinary medicine now is that the profession is changing from what attracted men to the profession in the first place. Although in small animal practice, I never wanted to be a small animal practitioner. But due to the decline of veterinarians being involved in animal agriculture and basic research (my specific interests), companion animal medicine seemed to be the only thing the school was teaching when I graduated in 1992(and probably more so today). If you are interested in subjects other than that, veterinary school is not the place to be because you will not get the education or training needed to be successful in those arenas without additional post DVM training/PhDs. Really I believe the profession is morphing into an occupation that just offers incentives that are more attractive to women now. Maybe why the non practice jobs are not being filled today is that they are not attractive to women but were attractive to men in the past.

    Joe

  • Easy answer: NO!
    04/18/2011 05:19pm

    In re: "Are you guys out there less likely to bring your pet to a clinic if it is staffed by female receptionists, technicians, and doctors?"

    OK, maybe you meant "guys" literally (as in, the question was directed at males) but if you meant "you guys" as in all readers, I can emphatically answer no to that question, and gladly admit a bias in the opposite direction.

    Studies show that men are overconfident (as a generatlization) and tend to overestimate their future performance on tasks, whereas the opposite tends to be true for women. I believe that conceit and overconfidence can be deadly in a health professional. While there are certainly some lousy female vets out there, I admit a bias in thinking that the overconfident, brash, and uncaring members of your field are even more disproportionately male than their representation in your profession would predict.

    Moreover, since I spend time pouring over vet board orders, I can say that of all the cases I've read of outright anger management-related physical abuse of patients and staff, the overwhelming majority were male. I can recall one female who whacked a dog off a table causing a brain hemorrhage which killed the dog, but she stands out in my memory for a reason. She's a rare exception. There may be as many competence issues or substance abuse issues with female members of the profession as males (judging from reading board orders) but those who physically abuse patients (and sometimes staff) are almost always male.

  • What does the dog want?
    04/18/2011 08:41pm

    One thought on this:

    Our beloved German Shepherd-Chow mix, Berkeley (who we lost Christmas 2009) came to prefer female vets. We had to switch from male vets to an all-female practice because he just got too worked up over a man.

    As to why? Are they really so petty that having too many females in class cause them to run screaming? From what I can see most people that want to be vets make that decision when they are young (i.e., still in public school). Maybe it isn't marketed as much as it used to be.

    Just a few thoughts.

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