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Most Veterinarians Are Women, but They Still Face Sexism in Rural Areas Where They’re Most Needed
Iowa Ag Connection - 02/27/2024

When Dr. Bailey Lammers started her veterinary career nearly a decade ago in her home state of Nebraska, she joined a minority of women practicing in rural areas.

At first, Lammers said clients were hesitant of her ability to care for their livestock.

“There would be times where they would call in and be like, ‘I don’t want the female,’” Lammers said.

Being part of a traditional family and a veteran of the Air Force, Lammers said she hardened herself to criticism from men and eventually built a list of supportive clients. In 2019, Lammers opened her own practice, Gavins Point Veterinary Services PC, in Crofton, Nebraska, the same year she had her first child.

“The ones that don’t believe that I should be doing what I do — because I am a mom or a woman or whatever — those are just not my clients,” she said.

Lammers’ experience as a veterinarian reflects a national trend. In 2009, the number of women practicing veterinary medicine grew to outnumber men and has only risen since.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2023, nearly 70% of veterinarians were women. That statistic is likely to increase, as the American Association of Veterinary College reports 83% of the veterinary medical class of 2027 are women.

But experts say rural veterinary spaces are still largely dominated by men.

“Those practices tend to be smaller, much more isolated, and tend to be more geared towards working with farmers and ranchers,” said Clint Neill, a veterinary economist at Applied Economics Consulting.

Neill said farming and ranching is a male-dominated field, and as a result, women veterinarians are unlikely to locate in rural practices and even less likely to own them.

Even though they make up the majority of practicing clinicians, only about 40% of the country’s veterinary practices are owned by women.

Neill also pointed out a pay gap among veterinarians who own their practices, with male owners making up to $100,000 more than their female counterparts. According to his research, pay gaps also arise when men have more experience and work in specialized areas.

After publishing a study on the topic, Neill said he faced criticism from people in the industry who argued women charge less for their services and work fewer hours, both things he said the study controlled for.

Not allowed into vet school

Most experts say the reason for the increase in women veterinarians is a natural shift from old models to modern ones.

“The very, very traditional version of veterinary medicine was that the veterinarian, the doctor, was always a man,” said Dr. Laura Molgaard, dean of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. “Women were not even allowed into veterinary school.”

Many schools refused to admit women on the grounds they would leave the field to become mothers. If they were admitted, women were barred from taking certain courses. When the Civil Rights Act of 1972 was passed, preventing discrimination on the basis of sex in education, such practices were no longer allowed.

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