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Can Veterinary Women Have It All?

Karen Bradley, DVM, Onion River Animal Hospital, Montpelier, Vermont

January / February 2014

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Can Veterinary Women Have It All?

This question has surfaced often, most recently in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All1 and Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.2 I highly recommend both, as well as Sandberg’s TED talk on the same subject,3 because they bring so many aspects of this conversation into the open.

Related Article: Women in Veterinary Leadership

Is “having it all” the goal of today’s women working in the veterinary field? And what exactly is “having it all,” anyway?

A Balancing Act

Women having it all is really about work–life balance, yet rarely are men asked anything similar. I have actually never understood why any working professional adult is required to have “balance!”

Balance is classically defined as a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. For me, life has never felt balanced; I always want or need more time for something—especially that last day of vacation or those last few moments of sleep. Can we work and love what we do and still come home to care for beloved pets, friends, and family, and find time for our hobbies? Sure. But we don’t have to beat ourselves up if it is not all balanced. Some weeks the dogs stay inside, and other weeks they get a hike every day. Some weeks the kids get leftovers or quick food from the freezer, and other weeks they get meals cooked from scratch with market-fresh ingredients. My single hope is that in the long run, I will feel that it has all evened out.

Related Article: Balancing Practice Ownership and Your Personal Life

Veterinary Achievers

Veterinary medicine is not only a career that demands educated, up-to-date, think-on-your-feet personalities—it is also work that is hard to leave at the workplace. Veterinarians think about that complicated case or try to solve that problem during the night and the next day, even when they are trying to leave the workplace mentally and physically.

As women, we aim up to achieve our degrees, establish ourselves in our profession, and do something we know we will love. Once we get there, do we stop aiming for success?
To most veterinary women, success means gaining clinical skills and growing a client following, owning a practice or at least having the option of ownership, getting involved in organized veterinary leadership, working toward achieving tenure or becoming a dean, or applying for a corporate promotion or a government job that should be filled by someone with veterinary qualifications but is instead filled by an MD.

Related Article: 5 Lessons Learned From Building a Veterinary Team

The Point

I believe women can have it all in the veterinary profession, but we need to climb that ladder, own veterinary practices, and achieve levels of higher responsibility in our areas of expertise before we will have a bigger voice.

And being heard in our field is essential for veterinary women to ever come close to “having it all.”

What’s Your Point?

Can women have it all? Is work–life balance a myth? Can men in the profession have it all?

Tell us what you think—your thoughts may be published in an upcoming issue of Veterinary Team Brief! Email [email protected] or leave your comment below!

Karen Bradley, DVM, is a founding member of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative.


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