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Women and adversity in veterinary medicine

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Marlena Lopez is a final-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Born and raised in California, she moved to Australia to gain international experience and study the unique animal fauna of the land. Marlena is passionate about animal welfare and wildlife conservation. She created Veterinary Adventures® to help aspiring vet students and educate pet owners on how to best take care of their beloved companions.

Conducting my research titled “From resource to female defence: the impact of roosting ecology on a bat’s mating strategy” in Royal Society Open Science.

According to AVMA Market Research Statistics: U.S. Veterinarians of 2018, women have become the majority in the veterinary profession,1 yet they still face a great deal of adversity in achieving acceptance. I have experienced this adversity first-hand, as well as witnessed other women face prejudice and discrimination.

After completing my bachelor’s degree, I worked as a researcher at an ecological station. My fellow male intern was not completing his tasks sufficiently and when my mentor saw this, I was asked to take over his data collection (in addition to mine) because his work was unreliable. After weeks of successfully completing my fellow intern’s work, he told me, “It’s too bad you want to be a scientist, because you would make a great secretary for a man.” This incident made me feel belittled and like any hard work I put into a project would be unappreciated. In this sort of situation, it can be easy to forget our worth isn’t determined by outside forces. However, we must remember our value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see it. After this, I focused on my research and let my hard work do the talking. The following year, I had my research published.

Unfortunately, stories like mine are not isolated incidents. Many women in science can recount negative experiences with their male colleagues or with the public, while completing their work.

In addition to attending veterinary school, I am also working part-time as a veterinary nurse. Through this, I have noticed that the public perception and treatment of veterinarians differ based on their sex. The clinic I work at is owned by two female veterinarians with more than 20 years of experience combined and yet clients often ask if the only male veterinarian (whom is a recent graduate) at the clinic can have a look at a particular case to offer a second opinion. Such instances imply the public perceives men in the profession to be more capable, regardless of their level of experience in the field.

According to research by the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division done in 2018, there is a still a gender wage gap and women occupy fewer places in the higher reaches of the veterinary profession, even as they now outnumber men in the field.2 Research conducted by Lancaster University’s Management School and The Open University’s Business School, also found few women reach the higher echelons of practice and are more likely to be employed as an assistant than as a director or partner.3

When the first veterinary school was founded in Lyon, France in 1761,4 only men graduated from the university. It wasn’t until 142 years later, in 1903, that the first woman, Mignon Nicholson, graduated from McKillip Veterinary College in Chicago—and there is nothing known about her veterinary career.5

Since, women have come a long way in overcoming adversity and achieving representation in the veterinary profession. So, what can be done to continue to improve the treatment and opportunities for women in the field?

I believe that one way is for men to show solidarity by raising awareness of male privilege and acknowledging the discrimination. They can serve as allies for their colleagues by standing with women through their daily struggles for the extermination of patriarchal, sexist, and misogynist constructs so they may have access to equal freedom, respect, and power.6

It might be that some men fear there are a finite amount of freedoms and the empowerment of women and girls may result in a reduction of their own privileges. However, equality benefits us all. For example, greater equality in the workforce results in high production levels and employee satisfaction.7 At work, men can do their part by ensuring women have an equal voice in all discussions and meetings in which they are involved.

In my opinion, with greater discussion and awareness of the difficulties women face in veterinary medicine, the profession as a whole will improve over time. Annual market research statistics allow us to visualise and track changes and trends of employment in the veterinary sector. I think keeping track of those numbers, while working toward increasing the number of women in leadership roles in the profession can help reduce the wage gap, as well as provide role models for the next generation and initiate change of the public’s perception of the role of women in veterinary medicine.


  1. Market research statistics: U.S. veterinarians 2018: American Veterinary Medical Association 2018.
  2. Mattson K. Mind the pay gaps. JAVMA News American Veterinary Medical Association, 2018.
  3. Gender discrimination holding women back in veterinary practice: Science Daily 2019.
  4. Cole L. A Quick History of Veterinary Medicine, 2014.
  5. McPheron T. 2007 is DVM Year of the Woman: JAVMA News 2007.
  6. Montano G. What is a man’s role in gender equality activism? .
  7. Victoria Government A. Safe and strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy; Preventing violence against women through gender equality.



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