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In the trenches
Studies might reveal trends, but personal experience is the most eye-opening insight to rural vet shortage


Some women do leave rural practice because of difficult clients or practice atmospheres, though, and Dorman says it's a hard enough job without adding that kind of stress. But the rural atmosphere seems to be adapting with the times.

"A lot of those guys, older ones, can't accept change. But at some point they retire or die and the next generation is more accepting of women. I think it's going to be more accepted," Dorman says, adding that she thinks moving forward, a lack of interest in large-animal practice will become the bigger problem. "The people going into vet school just don't want to do large animal. Incentives might help the ones that are interested but don't have finances."

Stafford agrees that the new generation brings new attitudes, but says those attitudes may also be holding rural practice back.

When she left Indiana and her primarily large-animal practice, it was to be closer to family and to give her children a better life, Stafford says.

"I couldn't find anyone, male or female, to join the practice because the money wasn't big. You just can't make enough," says the mother of two. "It was kind of a cluster of things, but it wasn't because I couldn't do it or because I didn't like it."

"I think there's a real problem with veterinarians coming out of school now, period," Stafford says. "There isn't the commitment, and that doesn't work with farm vets. In the city you can do that, but when you're out in farm country, you don't have a referral clinic to send to. You just do it."

As a young mother, Stafford says, her life "didn't revolve around kids' birthday parties" and her own needs —not that it was "right or good." Younger generations demand more work-life balance and have different financial needs, she says.

"There's a huge difference now, especially financially. Right now vet school is so incredibly expensive that these people get out of school owing $150,000 to $200,000, and they're making a mortgage payment on their loans. You're not going to make that as a large-animal vet in a rural area."

The incentives being put in place by the federal and state governments might help, but there are no guaranteed solutions, Stafford says.

"I think incentives are a good idea. Whether they will be able to stick it out, I don't know," she says.

"I never expected anybody to do any special favors for me, I didn't want anybody to," Stafford explains, adding there are times when a woman's smaller size can be a help or a hindrance. "But I think it's an excuse a lot of times. I think it's the hours, the lack of financial reward, and it is brutal at times physically. But I wouldn't go back and trade it. It just comes with the territory."

Dorman agrees that the physical nature of the job may be a problem for some, but says gender isn't the defining line in the sand.

Injuries play a big role in the lifespan of large-animal veterinarians — regardless of gender, Dorman says.

"You're more at risk for injury and end up getting hurt," she says, remembering a male classmate who left large-animal practice after five years because he hurt his back. Neck, back and shoulder injuries are primary concerns, but the general physical stress of the job is what gets to large-animal vets in the end.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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