Friday, October 30, 2015

Female vets

With all the recent Hillary Clinton/Carly Fiorina/ women shattering the glass ceiling talk, let me tell you a little bit about it in my profession.

Only recently have female veterinarians begun to outnumber their male counterparts.  Practice owners and other positions of the leadership in the field are still very male-dominated, for a variety of reasons.  It's very interesting to speak with some of the baby boomer veterinarians, and even older veterinarians, about how things used to be.  I give so much credit to the veterinarians who were the only female in their entire class.  I'm sure, with the typical temperament and sometimes uncouth manners that our profession sometimes has,  it could be difficult.  Just imagine spending 20 hours a day with people and dealing with flying cow poop, can bring out the less feminine nature.  We are a PROFESSION and I'd like to think veterinary medicine is a calling and not a career, we are much more colorful with our language and sense of humor than a lot of professions.

My class only had about 5 men in it, to go along with about  96 women  (not sure if the numbers are exactly right, but it was close to that).  Can you imagine that?  Let's just say a single man in vet school is typically high in demand : )  That can make for a whole other conversation..

In many other countries, veterinary medicine is still fairly male-dominated.  I had to deal with sexist comments prior to getting into vet school, and even later on as a veterinarian.  Many "big cowboy-types" would make comments about my 5'2 petite stature and how it would be hard to stand up to a thousand pound cow, or over a thousand pounds of horse.  My response was always the same, "I'll take my 100 pounds over your 250 pounds, I can move a lot faster than you over that fence and 1,000 pounds to 250 pounds still can do a lot of damage."

When I was in Ireland, I worked with a veterinarian, John.  He was fun!  He could gossip as good as a woman and he had a fun sense of humor.  He also introduced me to Bulmer's Cider, but that's a whole other story.  John was typical guy in some ways.  I found myself roomies with John and Susan, two coworker vets who were different in many ways (John was a nominal Catholic and Susan a devout protestant).  Having an American stay with them was a hoot for both of them, I'm sure.  Just to give you a sense of John, he once used Susan's expensive wool Scottish plaid to rescue a seal on a local beach.  Then he put it in the washing machine.  You can figure out the rest of the story.  I just share this to illustrate John was an animal lover and not afraid of a little dirt.

I was doing a lot of lambing and calving work in Ireland and oftentimes, the farmers wouldn't get to the sheep until they were really bad off (either they couldn't catch them, find them, or get a hold of their schedule).  A farmer, an old man with a strong dialect, brought his sheep in to the clinic.  You could smell the stench when the sheep was still outside the clinic.  John said, "There's no way, I'm doing anything with that sheep."  She had gone into labor a couple of days previous and the lamb had rotted inside of her uterus.  I will try not to get into too many details.  Just know it was the worst smell I have smelled ever, and for a vet, that says a lot.

John was ready to euthanize the sheep.  I said, "No, I want to give it a try."  The old man farmer looked at me and said, "girls can't be vets, this is a man's job."  I think I looked at him straight in the face and said, "yes" or something simple, irritated by his statement.  My husband wanted me to include this link for illustration:

The farmer walked the sheep up to the rail, I put on my big rubber pants, boots and a garbage bag over the top.  I got downwind.  I almost puked. It's quite possible I did and swallowed it.  I just tried to go to my happy place and think about saving this ewe.  The farmer was on the other end of the sheep (the definitely less stinky end), with a bandana and his shirt covering his mouth and he was trying not to vomit.  I cleaned out the sheep, gave her some antibiotic and wished her the best.  This process took about 20 minutes to a half hour of trying to ignore my sense of smell and my gag reflex.  As the farmer left, he shook my hand and said, "I was wrong.  Girls can be great vets."

Later on either that week or the next week as I went for a pub crawl, I went to the one pub in the town that used to be a man's only club (had only been open to women for a couple of months).  That farmer was there.  I found him buying me a Smithwicks. 

I'm not a big beer drinker (although with my son loving Irish drinking songs and "In Heaven There is No Beer, that's why we drink it here,") you would think otherwise.  That was a good, hard-earned beer.

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