That statistic has been bandied about for several years now, and as we old geezers [my daughter declared me a "geezer" about 8 years ago, and I’m not getting any younger] die off, the whole profession may eventually be eighty percent female.
This is a number I have heard many times, and have repeated many times, but it suddenly became real to me this weekend. As I may have noted, in June of 2005 my former associate, Dr. Karen Fieser, moved on when her husband moved to take advantage of a promotion. After having such a good friend and colleague for five years, I am anxious to have another. So far that special person hasn’t quite made it to my door. This weekend at the MVMA convention, the students put on a "speed networking" event. Much like the modern practice of "speed dating", prospective employers were stationed around a large room and the students visited with a number of them, changing stations when the whistle blew every 7 minutes or so. Out of 59 students present, I had the opportunity to visit with eight. I enjoyed their questions and discussing their goals and my practice. Since I could only visit with a few, I handed out information packets on the practice to as many of the others as I could buttonhole on the way out.
These were all first and second-year students, so hiring them as a doctor is a ways down the road. Right now they seem to be more looking for a preceptorship (where a student works in a practice to gain experience in the so-called "real world"). I learned a tremendous amount in my own preceptorships and also have enjoyed having students in my practice. It’s a good learning experience for both of us.
So what does any of this have to do with the "gender shift" in my profession? When I went to veterinary school the student body was eighty percent men, and now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. In those days there was a lot of foolishness about how women weren’t strong enough to handle livestock (as though a big man could muscle down a 2,000-pound bull). My classmate Sally Potter started her own (successful) livestock practice, and I’ll bet she didn’t weigh 110 pounds. At our twenty-year reunion she had a passel of kids and she still didn’t weigh 110 pounds. She was also still taking care of lots of cattle (including her own). The fact of the business is that brute strength is only entering the picture when your equipment or planning is inadequate.
Anyway, this eighty-percent women statistic was pretty abstract for me until the speed networking event Saturday. I felt like I was in the lobby of my daughter’s sorority house for Dad’s Weekend. There were a few guys there, but mostly I saw a lot of girls my daughter’s age. They all seemed pretty sharp, and I’ll bet they will be great veterinarians, but…it’s a lot different than seeing that number on paper. You know, I may actually be a geezer.