Once upon a time, veterinary medicine was dominated by men. These days, the story is changing.

It’s been 30 years since there was an equal distribution of men and women in veterinary classes. Since 1986, that tilt is distinctly female: 80% of students are women.

And in the professional field, the odds are still in favor of women, with women making up about 55% of professional vets (public and private).

What can account for this change in gender in veterinary medicine? Keep reading to learn more.

Changing the Field

In order to examine why this change is happening, we should first understand the extent of the shift.

You see, it’s not just that more women are becoming vets, enrolling in veterinary school, and replacing retiring male vets.

True, more women are applying to veterinary school and more women are attending veterinary school. But the reverse is also true: less and less men are looking to become veterinarians.

In the United States, men constituted 44% of the veterinary school applicant pool in 1985. By 1999, they accounted for just 28% of applicants.

And keep in mind, that was 1999. In 2017, women make up 80% of veterinary students in the U.S. and Canada.

During the application process, women tend to be better qualified than their male competitors. And yet, despite the fact that women are more likely to get a Bachelor’s degree than men, women are still getting paid less (a woman with a Bachelor’s gets paid the same as a man with an Associate’s degree, and a woman with a Masters gets the same pay as a man with a Bachelor’s).

This begs two questions: why veterinary medicine, and why are women still earning less even though they dramatically outnumber men in the veterinary field?

Why Veterinary Medicine?

At Cornell University, women comprise almost 90% of the School of Veterinary Medicine, yet only 25% of Ph.D. candidates in engineering fields were women.

This holds true across the nation. An overwhelming majority of those receiving veterinary professional degrees are women, but the exact opposite is true of engineering doctorates. Among medical doctors, 41% are female, but women are far more likely to work in psychiatry, gynecology, public health, and dermatology than surgical specialties.

So, the question is: why are women flocking to veterinary medicine? And why haven’t similar disciplines followed suit?

One suggestion is that women are more likely to look for jobs that offer them the workplace flexibility necessary to pursue a career and a family, and they’re willing to overlook higher earning potential in order to do that.

Being a veterinarian has prestige, but unlike a surgeon, a veterinarian can keep normal business hours. The last few years have seen a proliferation of small animal clinics that operate six days each week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with no evening or emergency hours.

Compare that to the work schedule of an on-call surgeon or a financier, and the appeal is obvious.

In addition, while veterinary training is as prestigious (and rigorous) as medical training, the training period is far shorter.

The Gendered Classroom

However, there is one explanation for why this has persisted. One that has less to do with women and everything to do with men.

Studies of the gender disparity in veterinary schools found an interesting trend: preemptive flight in men.

Women and men are equally concerned with the prestige, tuition, and salary potential afforded by a veterinary school. The variable comes in with women who are already enrolled in veterinary school.

When a male student decides to visit a veterinary school, he’s confronted with a classroom that’s almost exclusively female. And unlike women who see this, men are more likely to drop out of consideration–or not apply at all.

Changing Gender in Veterinary Medicine

Gender in veterinary medicine is just one small, fascinating aspect of this profession. There are so many ways you can take what you’ve learned in veterinary school and use it to benefit the greater good.

If you’d like to find out more about our work, check out our available mission trips. 

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