By Stacy Pursell of The VET Recruiter


The evolution of the role of women within the Veterinary profession has been a fascinating one.

At the inception of the profession, men outnumbered women in terms of veterinarians. This was the case within the United States and around the world. This is to be expected, since at the time, not many women were venturing outside of the home to work any job, much less to become a veterinarian. However, things have changed dramatically, especially during the past two decades.

According to job board site Zippia, women now outnumber men in the Veterinary profession within the United States by a wide margin. Specifically, 62.9% of veterinarians are women and 37.1% are men. That’s a nearly two-to-one ratio. And according to numbers released by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the disparity is represented by a two-to-one ratio.

The VET Recruiter conducted a comprehensive survey of Animal Health and Veterinary professionals this past summer. According to the results of that survey, 77% of the veterinarians who participated in the survey were female, indicating an even greater gender disparity within the profession.

However, that is not the only disparity that exists.

That’s because, according to a March 2021 study conducted by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CUCVM), there is an annual gender salary difference of nearly $100,000 among the top quarter of earners in the industry. The CUCVM used data from more than 2,700 veterinarians across the United States to determine the income differences between men and women at various levels of experience. Here are some other findings published in the study:

  • The pay disparity is the most pronounced in two distinct and separate areas that represent the ends of the career spectrum: recent graduates, and as mentioned above, the top half of earners in the field.
  • Male veterinarians typically move into higher income brackets than women, even when they have lower levels of experience.
  • Although men are more likely to own their own practice, this fact does not entirely account for the disparity in pay between the genders.

Evidence of these disparities were also evident in The VET Recruiter survey. For example, 76% of male veterinarians indicated that they play a part in the hiring process, while only 31% indicated that was the case for them. Veterinarians who play a part in the hiring process are more likely to be in positions of management. Based upon these results, although they’re outnumbered nearly two-to-one within the profession, men appear to be advancing more frequently through the career ranks.

There are, of course, multiple possible reasons for these disparities. None of them are to blame entirely, but put together, they’ve contributed to the conditions that currently exist. One of them, as mentioned in the CUCVM study, is the fact that more men own their own practice than women.

Four more reasons are listed below:

#1—Career Choices and Specialization

While women dominate in general Veterinary practice, men are more likely to pursue specialized fields within Veterinary medicine, such as surgery, dentistry, or orthopedics. According to a 2020 VetsSurvey conducted by Vetspanel, one of the reasons is that women are sometimes discouraged from pursuing specialization.

These specialized fields often command higher salaries than general practice. This specialization gap can be attributed to several factors, including societal expectations, mentorship opportunities, and historical gender biases. Women may be discouraged from pursuing specialized fields or may face barriers in accessing the necessary training and mentorship to excel in these areas.

#2—Work-Life Balance and Part-Time Work

Work-life balance and part-time work arrangements also influence the gender pay gap in Veterinary medicine. Women are more likely to seek part-time or flexible work arrangements, often to accommodate family responsibilities. While these choices are entirely valid, they can result in lower overall earnings compared to colleagues working full-time. For example, I recently talked with a female boarded specialist who works one day a week so that she can care for her family the other days of the week. I tried to recruit her for a leadership role but she said she couldn’t handle that level of responsibility at this time due to family obligations.

#3—Discrimination and Bias

Subtle biases and discrimination in the workplace can also impact women’s earning potential. Gender bias may manifest in performance evaluations, promotion decisions, and opportunities for advancement. Stereotypes about gender roles and abilities can influence how female veterinarians are perceived by their colleagues and superiors, affecting their career trajectories and compensation.

#4—Negotiation and Compensation

Gender differences in negotiation and compensation play a role in perpetuating the pay gap. Studies have shown that women are often less likely to negotiate their salaries or advocate for higher compensation than men. This can result in women accepting lower starting salaries and smaller pay raises over time, further contributing to the pay gap.

It’s this final point that I would like to address specifically. Allow me to tell you what my experience has been during my more than 25 years as an executive recruiter and veterinary recruiter, I’ve found that while men tend to sometimes overrate their abilities when negotiating with their boss in a professional setting, women tend to do the opposite. They sometimes underestimate themselves, their abilities, and the value they provide.

This also happens in a job search situation. Men will say, “Pick me, pick me!” even when they are not fully qualified. Women sometimes don’t apply for a job when they’re not sure they have 100% of what’s required in a job post. Men will apply even if they’re not remotely qualified, and they won’t think twice about doing so. It’s my belief that this mentality and mindset have also contributed to the ironic disparity that exists for women in the Veterinary profession. They comprise two-thirds of the profession, yet they experience an economic and career development disparity that belies their demographic dominance.

However, the main takeaway for women in the Veterinary profession should be opportunity.

While it is true that some women prefer to work less—whether it be reduced hours or the unwillingness to own their own practice—so that they can attend to their family life, there is plenty of opportunity within the profession and in the job market overall. The biggest reason is because of the overwhelming demand for veterinarians, the current veterinarian shortage, and the subsequent candidate-driven market.

As a result, women who have the drive and the desire to grow their Veterinary career and do their part to reduce the pay gap within the profession have the chance to do so. And they don’t have to wait, either. They can start before they even graduate from Veterinary school. That’s because Veterinary students are receiving multiple offers of employment before they even receive their diploma, and many are receiving offers that include starting salaries well over $100K. However, to fully take advantage of this opportunity, there are five main things that women must do:

  • Recognize your value.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for what you believe you’re worth.
  • Become a student of negotiation. (this is something I have taught at major conferences)
  • Be proactive about growing your career.
  • Be willing to take calculated risks in the pursuit of rewards.

The Veterinary profession, perhaps more than any other in the job market, offers women a remarkable opportunity for career growth and professional development, as well as the chance to close the gender pay gap. The conditions necessary for this to occur already exist. All that’s required now is for those women who wish to make their career a top priority to recognize this opportunity and do what is necessary to seize it, regardless of cultural norms, discrimination and bias, and any other challenges or obstacles that exist.

As a female working in the executive search profession for more than two decades, I know all too well about the challenges and obstacles that exist within a chosen profession or the job market overall. But I overcame them, and I believe that other women can do exactly the same thing during their career as a veterinarian.