All Creatures Great Then Small

Here is an interesting article about new study results about the shortage of rural veterinarians.  It really hit home for me.  At one time in my life, for quite awhile, I wanted to be a rural veterinarian.  Here are some quotes from the article and my take on them.

 “Those uninterested in rural practice primarily consisted of women, members of generations X (born between 1964 and 1978) … and those with urban backgrounds.”

Guess I was the exception there.  I am a Generation Xer from an urban background.

I didn’t want to be James Herriot.  He had brucellosis and was overworked and underpaid! 

I was told that starting salaries were highest for large-animal vets at that time.  I knew the downsides; hard physical work, on-call, etc., but I really wanted to be large-animal veterinarian, and here’s why:

“Veterinarians who chose rural practice placed a high value on rural lifestyles.”

I wanted to drive to my appointments in a big old truck with a big old vet box on the back.  I wanted to help livestock producers make lots and lots of money!  I wanted to teach my kids to hunt and be able to let them run around outside unsupervised, climbing trees and bringing tadpoles home.  I wanted to drive past at least one soybean field before I got home.  It would be worth it.  And here’s what happened:

“More women, however, did report leaving the profession because of the practice atmosphere than compared to men. Similarly, Generation Xers ranked practice atmosphere as a factor in leaving much more frequently than the Silent Generation. About 23 percent of women, and no men, ranked gender issues in rural practice as being a reason for leaving.”

This does not surprise me in the slightest.  Quite frankly, 14 years ago, when I was in veterinary school, the rural community I wanted to join as a professional sort of dismissed me.  I have no idea to what level this still exists, but in the places I went I found significant gender bias, not from other professionals, but from my future clients.

Here I was, so enthusiastic, jumping in there to work cows, wrestle sheep, dehorn calves with everything I had.  I was soaking in knowledge from my professors and planning how I would make it all happen in my own rural practice.  Then I started noticing when I got into clinical rotations and internships and went on farm calls with male veterinarians and male veterinary students, I was getting a bit overlooked. 

There were many subtle instances of this almost every single day, but the most obvious was when the veterinarian asked me to go over “discharge instructions” with clients. Some clients were great and treated me no different than anyone else, but I have to say that the majority either nodded and said, “Uh-huh” and then looked at the men in the group like “Does this bird know what she’s talking about?” or were flat-out dismissive.  There were even a few women that did this, although most female livestock-owning clients I met were capable women themselves and were fantastic to me.

With all of the downsides to rural practice, I was still ready to give it my all.  But I got so disheartened when I thought about having that additional daily battle, when I thought about how that would wear on me over time.

I guess in a way, it is a relief AND troubling to see by these studies’ results that I wasn’t the only one this had happened to, but it’s just too bad that it is apparently still going on.  Rural communities could very well be “dismissing” their way out of valuable professional help, one farm visit at a time.


  • I am saddened that you felt you could not get therespect you worked so hard for while practicing in the rural area you were.  In my area we would just like to have a veterinarian who worked with us and gave us the time and respect we desire.  As a woman, invovled in the Animal Health Industry I have been steered toward companion animal because I was a woman located close to big towns.  However when I come home I am a farm wife and a cattle owner.  I own the cattle and do all the work with them.  Repeatedly, when I call on the services of the large animal veterinarians, I cannot get them to come out to my place, not because I don't pay my bills (or even complain about the pricing) but because they are to busy with companion animals or larger herds. 

    I work in town about 50 miles away and I leave early to get to work and get home after the clinics close.  Since I work for a city company in a small animal market (I don't know if that would really make a difference) I must take off early to get products I need to take care of my cattle.  I have had to go ask to be let off early to go rescue my bull from the neighbors heifers (I got a real funny look on that one).  I would better off to have children that need to be picked up from school sick- I would be blessed and told not to come back until the little ones were well. 

    Agriculture is not an 8 to 5 career and unfortunately since many people who live outside of town work in town jobs we get accused of not taking care of our animals.  We are not available during the day many times because we are working to keep the doors open for the veterinary clinics and others. 

    I would like to be able to come home and when I check my cattle, if I see a problem that I need assistance with, to call a veterinarian and instead of hearing "it will be an emergency fee" or "it is a cow it will get over it" - they would come out and treat my animal.  I have learned to do many things for myself because of this lack of concern I have recieved.

    My years in the industry have taught me that everyone wants to earn money and I have met many large animal veterinarians who are doing quite well.  I have also met small animal veterinarians that didn't make it. 

    Knowing your clients and working with them will earn you more business than being open 8 to 5 and not getting out of the clinic.  Small herd owners could someday become larger herd owners, just like new clinics can grow and become huge customers. 

    The large animal veterinary arena isn't hurting because of gender or the number of veterinarians but because the industry has forgotten its roots.  First rule in any business is not to judge what your customer is able orwilling to pay.  To many times I get judged because of previous clients.  

    I only hope future students can look at working in rural practice and combine both small and large animal services to serve the areas that currently are not being serviced well.  There is money to make in large animal and even though the work is sometimes harder it really could be rewarding when done correctly.








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