Why Female Vets Make Less $

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: August 12, 2006
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OK, I won’t presume to offer these reasons as fact, rather as ideas discussed within veterinary professional circles. I’ll throw in a few of my own opinions, too, since I can’t possibly be expected to keep these to myself.

1-We charge less for our services: In this theory, our womanly compassion is the culprit. Apparently this compassion extends way past the pet and into the clients` pocketbooks. Supposedly, we women feel guilty charging so much when we know how hard it is to make ends meet.

Regrettably, I agree with this one. I see women vets do this all the time whereas most men I know take a harder, more rational line when it comes to charging clients. And our empathetic natures (much as I hate this blanket view of womanity) may have something to do with it. After all, it’s easy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you both suffer the same problem.

Unfortunately, the financial difficulty that makes this empathy possible is also what sustains it. Anyone charging less for their services because they know how it feels to be strapped for cash is ensuring they will continue to feel this way; a vicious circle, indeed.

2-We work fewer hours: This is true. We are much more likely to work part-time as we raise our families. This means we are likely to accept less pay for the convenience of working thirty hours instead of the fifty so many other vets put in.

By working fewer hours we suffer less substantial relationships with our clients. We spend less time building trust by making ourselves available for follow-ups, emergencies, and day-to-day management of hospitalized cases. If we don’t have our clients` confidence they are less likely to feel comfortable consenting to more sophisticated (expensive) treatment. This reduces our value to the practice and we are then less eligible for raises and bonuses.

Moreover, most clients prefer to see the same vet every time, if possible. They don’t like being told she’s not there on the day they really need to see her again for a pet’s recurrent problem. If this happens often enough clients are more likely to request another vet. Ultimately, this renders the part-time vet to a less valuable position in the practice.

3-We accept lower salaries than we deserve: This is the curse of women in so many professions. Our time is valued less because of the above two issues. And because so many of our bosses are old guard vets, they expect all female associates to run off and have kids, abandoning them mid-stream in favor of breastfeeding and carpools.

They might even discount our salaries based on our degree of attractiveness, as the most attractive among us are perceived to be more likely to abscond to a life of travel and leisure with our prospectively rich husbands. After all, married women rely on their men as primary breadwinners, right?

But none of this explains why we, as practice owners, make even less relative to our male counterparts. Perhaps it’s because we pay our staffs more. Or is it that we are naturally less business savvy? Perhaps we employ practice managers instead of doing it ourselves, thereby spreading our wealth thin. Perhaps we are less ambitious and aggressive in our quest for the almighty dollar, allowing lifestyle choices, instead, to govern how we run our practices.

There are a few more reasons I’d like to offer as to why men command higher starting salaries and contribute more perceived value to a practice:

1-Practice owners are still predominantly male and men like to hire men for reasons listed above as well as for a general sense of kinship and comradery.

2-Fewer men entering the veterinary workforce means there are fewer of them to go around: the laws of supply and demand apply here, as with oil and diamonds—or toilet paper, for that matter.

3-Many clients are simply accustomed to the Dr. Dolittle version of vet: a bespectacled, graying man with joviality to rival Santa Claus`. They tend to prefer this guy to the blue-toenailed, high-heeled variety. If you saw the tattoo on one of my female classmates you, too, would prefer Dr. Dolittle.

I’m sure you’ll come up with some other reasons for me and I await them with bated breath.