The Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) is committed to advancing women’s leadership and growth in the veterinary profession through advocacy, professional development, and building community. Discussions regarding a predominately female workforce are layered and (whether visible or not) deeply influenced and connected to other systems and aspects of our society. The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) commissioned an analysis regarding the veterinary workforce and retention and released their findings. Our comments will focus not on whether the authors’ workforce projections are accurate but on the lens through which the authors discussed the Impacts of Demographic Shifts on Veterinarian Supply in our predominately female profession (beginning on page 8).

Currently in the United States, the veterinary profession is approximately 63% female and the number of female students in veterinary medical school is approximately 80%. These numbers do not include the profession’s indispensable technicians, nurses, and assistants that are also predominately female. The authors cited that the growing number of women entering veterinary medicine is due to “the lack of the residency requirement compared to human medicine, thus an easier path to employment than physicians, and more moderate, controllable working hours.” Women choosing to become veterinarians is not because women perceive it as an “easier path to employment,” but because of our commitment to advancing animal health worldwide. Women in the veterinary profession are smart, driven, and dedicated. In determining which career paths would most utilize our skills while also providing personal meaning and growth, we had options – and we still do.

Our current professional education structure that trains students to be general practice clinicians upon graduation and passing required licensing exams without completing a residency is a training structure also shared by other highly respected healthcare professions (such as dentistry). The academic rigor and professional training comparisons and assumptions made between human and veterinary medicine at the expense of diminishing women’s career choices are unhelpful and ill-suited for identifying workforce solutions relevant for our profession.

The authors state that “more moderate working hours than physicians make veterinary medicine an attractive career for women who continue to shoulder a disproportionate share of household chores.”  While we greatly appreciate the authors acknowledging that working women in heterosexual relationships continue to “shoulder a disproportionate share of household chores,” the “more moderate working hours” in veterinary medicine do not make it an “attractive career for women” (but not men) because we’d like to have more time to do said household chores. We did not choose an “easier” career in veterinary medicine, which involved eight or more years of challenging college education, because we wanted more time to follow our true passion for folding socks and vacuuming floors. This harmful assumption also highlights the persistent career barriers and invisible labor that working parents and caregivers continue to navigate and have in addition to the professional work they do.

The authors cited that in 2017 male veterinarians worked on average 45.01 hours per week, while female veterinarians worked 42.92 per week due to more women working part-time. Regardless of whether those weekly averages mirror lived experience then or now, a female professional working two hours less a week in the clinic than her male colleague does not equate to the author’s conclusion of women having “more moderate working hours” than their male counterparts. This hourly/weekly comparison difference is marginal at best, unnecessary to include, and the presumptuous word choice continues to undermine the value of women’s time and labor in and out of the clinic.

As the authors accurately noted, generational differences and perceptions are subjective and often result in generalizations and stereotypes being made about each generation, so one might wonder why they chose to reinforce these stereotypes by repeating them as part of their hypothesized conclusions regarding the workforce attitudes and behaviors of our Millennials and Gen Z generations. With higher levels of male veterinarians being part of the Boomer generation and the majority of early-career veterinarians being female, discussions related to generational differences in the profession are also inherently gendered as well. We would argue that younger generations do not possess a “low level of loyalty to their current employer,” as cited by the authors, but have a high standard for what an equitable employee-employer partnership is and could be – and that includes providing relevant and needed support for women and caregivers in the workplace. We support younger generations expecting different and more from their employers that push for greater equity in the workplace. We would caution any group from using what could be interpreted as diminishing and mistrustful language towards any generation.

We are fortunate within veterinary medicine to have amazing leaders, mentors, allies, innovators, and change makers in every generation, and we support younger generations of women working across all sectors to adjust the very fabric of their professions to meet the needs of our rapidly evolving world. In the Unites States, with women graduating from college at higher rates than men in all racial and ethnic groups the future of leadership is female.

At WVLDI, we continue to persist in our ongoing mission to advance women’s leadership and reduce barriers to success. We strongly encourage organizations and research entities to include female researchers in their study development planning, analysis, and findings discussions to help mitigate potentially sexist messaging, inaccuracies, and conclusions. Veterinary medicine, like many other professions, is sustained on the fuel of women’s knowledge, skills, and labor. Veterinary medicine is an amazing and fulfilling profession that was historically built by men for men and now it must work for women too.

Women are the workforce.

WVLDI Board of Directors

Dr. Tangela Williams-Hill

Dr. Danielle Adney

Rosita Santos

Dr. Gary Marshall

Dr. Makenzie Peterson

Dr. Eva Evans

Kim Barteau

  Molly Ellis

Dr. Mila Kundu

Dr. Kristen Turner