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President's Message

Veterinary Shortage – Women Lead the Way

As we all know, veterinarians are in high demand everywhere, but especially in rural areas. It seemed like not too long ago we were arguing about whether we needed to open any new colleges of veterinary medicine.

Recently, I was interviewed for an article in Wallace's Farmer related to this issue. This is actually one of a series of articles that I would encourage you to read (https:// www.farmprogress.com/business/iowa-faces-challenges-in-veterinary-industry). It discusses more in depth the factors and concerns from both the academic and practice sides of the equation. Dr. Madison Durflinger, who is our newest associate, was also interviewed. She originates from southeast Iowa. Although she is fresh out of school and has a lot to learn, Dr. Madison has a great passion for the profession and always wants to do her best. She has a bright future, and we hope she stays with us for a very long time.

When the interviewer asked Dr. Madison why she decided to come to our clinic, the main things she mentioned were mentorship, a multi-doctor practice, and location. These are very common factors for new graduates. One thing that I've discovered over time is that mentorship means different things to different people. When I'm interviewing somebody for a job, I really try to find out what they are looking for. Sometimes we cannot meet their needs and that's okay.

During our discussion, the Wallace Farmer interviewer was surprised to find out that new graduates are almost 85% women. There are many reasons why I think this is and will continue to be that way. Women will lead us in the future of veterinary medicine, and they can definitely do the job well. Having said that, women have both great opportunities and great obstacles they must face. I will use my wife, Dr. Amy, as a perfect example.

Let me tell you that Amy is an amazing veterinarian, mother, bookkeeper, event planner, cook, baker, cleaner and occasional butt kicker. I literally could not function without her. In many ways, she was a pioneer. She was the first female student worker at the Iowa State Beef Nutrition Farm and possibly all the research farms combined. I remember her telling me that the full-time workers there did not really appreciate her at first. Administration made them go through sensitivity training and take down a few scantily clad posters of women. It only took her about a week to break through the ice and they realized that working with a young woman was better than okay. After a while, they were even discussing their relationship problems with her, and wanting her advice.

Amy always wanted to do mixed practice. After graduation, we both started working at Stuart. Of course, we were both young and had a lot to learn, but we were both doing well. After about a year and a half, she decided to work at a small animal clinic in Des Moines. Amy told me she was concerned about the physical toll large animal veterinary work was having on her. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the main issue was her frustration with some clients (mostly men, me included) who overlooked her and asked the male veterinarians for their advice or assistance.

We both worked full-time for some years and then started having a family. We found out quickly that if we wanted to spend time with our children, we had to make some changes. By that time, I had become an owner of our clinic. Amy started working part-time as a veterinarian and full-time as a caregiver. I had my household duties as well, but she did a lot of it. She still enjoyed veterinary medicine, but family was becoming more of her passion all the time. That really surprised me because I thought she was going to be mostly dedicated to her career, partially by choice and partially due to circumstances. Nevertheless, she's been through a lot and has had to make some tough decisions. I know I have not given her as much support and credit that she deserves.

Now, when I discuss the veterinary profession with both male and female students/new grads, I tell them to have open honest discussions with their spouses and their employers about what they feel is appropriate and realistic for a work/life balance. They should also revisit this discussion at least once a year.

Again, I wish you peace and prosperity. I hope to see you all in September at the Annual Meeting.


Dr. Shawn Nicholson