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As a result of scandals concerning sexual harassment in Hollywood and in the media, as well as questions regarding the size of the gender pay gap, considerable attention has recently been paid to questions of gender diversity and discrimination in organisations. Gender issues would appear particularly salient within the veterinary profession, not least because women are beginning to outnumber men as practitioners. While this research on veterinary surgeons was not initially focused on gender, as the study progressed gender became an issue of such importance that it could not be ignored. Although ‘feminized in numerical terms’, the veterinary profession and ‘its professional structure and culture remains gendered masculine’. Translated into practice, this means that although 76 per cent of vet school graduates are currently female, disproportionately few have risen or are rising through the hierarchy. On the surface it is easy to rationalise this away partly by simply stating how many female vets appear to sacrifice career for family, but the authors’ aim is to go beyond merely repeating and reinforcing the common sense view of female reproduction and parenting as the sole explanation for gender inequality within this and other professions.
Female vets face “outright discrimination” and sexism from colleagues and clients
Implications for legal/ethical practice and sustainability of profession, say authors
Female vets routinely face “outright discrimination” and sexism from their colleagues and
clients, with few of them encouraged to rise up the hierarchy, indicates a small qualitative
and observational study, published online in Vet Record.
This not only has implications for the sustainability of the profession, because three out of
four vet school graduates are women and rates of practitioner burnout are high. But it also
raises questions about the legality and ethics of practice, say the authors.
The authors didn’t set out to focus on gender, they write, “but as the study progressed,
gender became an issue of such importance that it could not be ignored.”
They drew on semistructured interviews with 75 vets: 39 men and 36 women, ranging in age
from 25 to 63. They included practitioners with varying levels of experience and in all three
main types of practice: small animal (30); large animal (34); and equine (12).
The interviews were accompanied by observations during practice visits, including during
consultations and surgery, as well exchanges in staff kitchens and corridors.
The authors then carried out a thematic analysis to gauge how particular narratives were
used, consciously or not, to maintain or disrupt the prevailing status quo at work.
Their analysis revealed “highly significant” client sexism, with clients often demanding a male
vet or insisting on a second opinion from “one of the boys.”
These attitudes were rarely challenged by senior (male) vets, “partly because of their being
oblivious to the problems, but also, presumably, for fear of upsetting the client, suggest the
Some of the interviewees did seem to be outwardly sensitive to gender issues, yet were
unaware of their own sexism.
The researchers cite an example of a male large animal practitioner who suggested that
chauvinism was dying out, but then went on to say: ‘They [women] can...use their charm in
situations, which do require some physical strength to actually just get the farmer to help’.
Issues of physical weaknesses were frequently expressed by both sexes, particularly in
relation to large animal work, despite it often being a question of technique rather than
strength, note the researchers. Once again, this view was rarely challenged.
The narrative of an enforced choice between career or family was often subscribed to by
both sexes, but was “entirely absent from male accounts, as were issues of future
fatherhood,” point out the authors.
“These assumed responsibilities than become conflated (unproblematically) with either the
sheer impossibility, or lack of desire, for women to seek senior positions in their practices,” a
viewpoint that is reinforced by women’s self-deprecation and the long working hours culture
of the profession, they add.
And with one notable exception, they found once female vets had children, they were
assumed to be on the ‘mommy track’ and were no longer taken seriously by the practice,
manifest in no longer being given complex cases or considered for promotion.
These findings are important, insist the authors, because of “the potentially ethical and legal
implications of practices that conflict with equal opportunity policies and values.”
But more than that: “Often female vets were subject to outright sex discrimination.” This will
only worsen the risk of burnout, which is estimated to affect one in five female vets within
five years of graduation, they suggest.
Currently, few women work in large animal practices, hospitals, or academic research, say
the authors. But “vets do not readily recognise these issues and some even refuse to
acknowledge their existence.”
All this has implications for recruitment and retention, and ultimately the sustainability of the
profession, they suggest.
Women themselves don’t seem to want to challenge gender hierarchies and entrenched
masculine cultures at work either, suggesting that gender awareness training both in
management and the veterinary college curriculum is needed, say the authors.
“This training could raise issues of discrimination around gender and other closely related
problems such as age, so that students are equipped to recognise and challenge discourses
of limitation and discrimination before they become normalised, internalised, and
entrenched,” they conclude.
Notes for editors
Gendered practices in veterinary organisations doi 10.1136.vr.104994
Journal: Vet Record
Link to Academy of Medical Sciences labelling system:
Embargoed link to research
Public link once embargo lifts
Author contact
Professor David Knights, School of Management, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
Tel:+ 44 (0)1743341742 or 07891647837
... The voice to tackle racism within veterinary medicine is increasing (Limb, 2019). This adds to previous calls to tackle sexism and gender pay issues (Knights and Clarke, 2018;Waters, 2018). ...
... 26 In countries such as the UK and the US, veterinary medicine has typically been a male-dominated profession, but from the 2000s, women have increasingly begun to be represented in the profession. [30][31][32] There are a number of differences between female and male veterinary students and practitioners. It is reported that some women and men have different perceptions regarding "success" in veterinary medicine, with women using more criteria to inform any definition and expecting more from a veterinarian before they consider them "successful". ...
İletişim becerileri, bir öğrencinin iletişim kurma yeteneği ile empati becerisini arttırabilmesi nedeniyle diğer klinik beceriler arasında önemli bir yere sahip olan öğretilebilir ve öğrenilebilir becerilerdir. Bu çalışmanın amacı, veteriner fakültesi son sınıf öğrencilerinin iletişim konusunda kendilerini nasıl değerlendirdiklerini ve cinsiyetin bu algı üzerinde bir etkisi olup olmadığını belirlemektir. Çalışma 128 gönüllü öğrenci ile 30 sorudan oluşan İletişim Yeterlilik Ölçeği kullanılarak gerçekleştirilmiş, bağımsız örneklemlerde t-testi ile istatistiksel değerlendirme yapılmıştır. Yapılan değerlendirmeye göre, tüm katılımcılar arasında erkeklerin en yüksek puanı, kadınlar en düşük puanı aldığı görülmüştür. Ancak kadın ve erkeklerin toplam puanları arasında istatistiksel olarak anlamlı fark bulunamamıştır (p=0.605). Kadın ve erkekler arasında sosyal yeterlilik, empati yeterliği ve uyum yeterliği açısından anlamlı fark bulunmuştur. Kadınlar empati yeterliğinde, erkekler ise sosyal yeterlilik ve uyum yeterliğinde daha yüksek puan almıştır. İletişim yeterlikleri algısı bakımından kadınlar kendilerini daha empatik, erkekler ise daha sosyal ve uyumlu bulmuştur. Bu çalışma Türk veteriner fakültesi öğrencilerinin iletişim yeterlikleri konusunda öz algılarını yansıtan ilk çalışma olması bakımından önemlidir. İletişim becerileri eğitimi Türkiye’de veteriner fakülteleri müfredatında daha güçlü hale gelecek ve bu konu ileri araştırmaların yapılmasını teşvik edecektir.
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Communication skills are teachable and learnable skills, which have a vital position among other clinical skills because a student's ability to communicate can increase empathy. Empathy scores tend to be higher for women than for men. The focus of this article is to determine how senior students evaluate themselves regarding communication competence and whether gender has an impact on their perception. The study included 128 volunteering students, using the Communication Competence Scale, consisting of 30 questions, as a data collection tool and the independent samples t-test for statistical evaluations. The evaluation of all participants showed that male participants had the highest score, and female participants had the lowest. However, there was no statistically significant difference between female and male participants' total scores (p = 0.605). There was a statistically significant difference between female and male students in terms of the social competency, empathy, and adaptability. Female scores for empathy were statistically higher than those of males. Male students scored themselves higher than females in terms of social competency and adaptability. In the context of the students' perceptions of their communication competence, it was determined that women assessed themselves to be more empathetic and men perceived themselves to be more social and adaptable. This research is significant as it is the first study of Turkish veterinary students' self-perception of communication competence. Communication training may become more robust in veterinary curricula in Turkey, and further research will be affected by this issue.
The problem of discrimination in the veterinary profession can seem like an insurmountable issue. At the recent Courageous Conversations conference Charlotte McCarroll discussed some of the research recently carried out by the University of Surrey.
Antimicrobial use in companion animals is a largely overlooked contributor to the complex problem of antimicrobial resistance. Humans and companion animals share living spaces and some classes of antimicrobials, including those categorised as Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials (HPCIAs). Veterinary guidelines recommend that these agents are not used as routine first line treatment and their frequent deployment could offer a surrogate measure of ‘inappropriate’ antimicrobial use. Anthropological methods provide a complementary means to understand how medicines use makes sense ‘on-the-ground’ and situated in the broader social context. This mixed-methods study sought to investigate antimicrobial use in companion animals whilst considering the organisational context in which increasing numbers of veterinarians work. Its aims were to i) to epidemiologically analyse the variation in the percentage of antimicrobial events comprising of HPCIAs in companion animal dogs attending UK clinics belonging to large veterinary groups and, ii) to analyse how the organisational structure of companion animal practice influences antimicrobial use, based on insight gained from anthropological fieldwork. A VetCompassTM dataset composed of 468,665 antimicrobial dispensing events in 240,998 dogs from June 2012 to June 2014 was analysed. A hierarchical model for HPCIA usage was built using a backwards elimination approach with clinic and dog identity numbers included as random effects, whilst veterinary group, age quartile, breed and clinic region were included as fixed effects. The largest odds ratio of an antimicrobial event comprising of a HPCIA by veterinary group was 7.34 (95% confidence interval 5.14 – 10.49), compared to the lowest group (p < 0.001). Intraclass correlation was more strongly clustered at dog (0.710, 95% confidence interval 0.701 - 0.719) than clinic level (0.089, 95% confidence interval 0.076 -0.104). This suggests that veterinarians working in the same clinic do not automatically share ways of working with antimicrobials. Fieldwork revealed how the structure of the companion animal veterinary sector was more fluid than that depicted in the statistical model, and identified opportunities and challenges regarding altering antimicrobial use. These findings were organised into the following themes: “Highest priority what?”; “He’s just not himself”; “Oh no – here comes the antibiotics police”; “We’re like ships that pass in the night”; and “There’s not enough hours in the day”. This rigorous mixed-methods study demonstrates the importance of working across disciplinary silos when tackling the complex problem of antimicrobial resistance. The findings can help inform the design of sustainable stewardship schemes for the companion animal veterinary sector.
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