Women in veterinary medicine

I was reading a DVM magazine today.  There was an article about the number of veterinarians that were set to graduate in 2012.  According to the article, there were 2524 new veterinary graduates in 2012, which is a 2% increase from 2011.  They broke down the number of graduates by school, listing the size of the graduating classes of all U.S. veterinary schools.  The chart in the article also divided each school’s class size by gender, and that’s the part that really caught my eye.  There were 82 students in my veterinary class at the University of Florida, in 1988.  The class was divided exactly 50-50 in terms of gender:  41 males and 41 females.  I looked at the makeup of University of Florida’s graduating class for 2012, and was surprised to see that the class was now 71% women and 29% men.  The numbers for all of the schools combined are even more striking:  78% women, 22% men!  Auburn University in Alabama had the highest percentage of men, although this fell well short of 50%.  (It was 40%)  Tufts University, in Massachusetts, had the biggest dichotomy: 88% women, 12% men!   As far as the total number of veterinarians in the entire country, women took the lead in 2009, with there being 44,802 women vets compared with 43196 men.

Why has the veterinary profession shifted so dramatically from a male-dominated field to one where women are now taking the lead?  

Years ago, veterinary schools were reluctant to accept women into veterinary schools because they thought it would be risky to give a valuable seat to a woman, only to risk her getting married, having children, and dropping out of the program.  In 1972, however, Title IX abolished gender discrimination  in federally funded educational programs, and this definitely had some impact on the increase in women being accepted to veterinary school.

Another reason is simply that more women are graduating with bachelor’s degrees than men, and more female graduates are pursuing higher educational goals.  Since 2000, about 57% of the enrollment in U.S. colleges is by women.  Men are also leaving college in disproportionately high numbers.

Some people think the gender shift has to do with salary.  Salaries in industries that become female dominated tend to increase at a slower rate, and that the veterinary medicine may not pay enough to “suit male tastes”. (Whatever that means.)  According to the AVMA, the median income of female vets in private practice was 79,000 dollars in 2007.  For men, it was 109,000 dollars.  Some men who might have been interested in veterinary medicine now target more lucrative occupations.  In 2008, physicians earned, on average, 186,044 dollars.  Surgeons earned $339,738.  Interestingly, women applicants are surpassing men in those fields as well.  

The one area of veterinary medicine that remains male dominated is food animal medicine.  In 2009, 82.5% of food animal vets were male.  In companion animal practice, however, in 2009 women outnumbered men 55.3% to 44.7%.