Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Perhaps, the great mystery of our time is the underlying cause of the gender shift we see in modern society. Sixty years ago, I went through a four professional school curriculum there were 42 students in the class, one of whom was female. The class immediately before and immediately after had no females.  Various sources indicate that currently about 50% of all practicing veterinarians are female while females occupy 70% of seats in veterinary colleges. My last years of teaching pathology, which was in 1994 there were 86% females in the class. 

I noticed several instances of while still actively teaching, a phenomenon that didn’t puzzle me, but suggest a trend. Two examples deal with female staffing of faculty professorial groups. In one instance, a female was appointed head of small animal surgery; she was the first female to hold that position since the beginning of the college. Small animal surgery staff turns over quite readily; nevertheless, this particular college did not hire one male surgeon from the day of her appointment until today. In large animal medicine and surgery, we soon learn you do not out muscle your patients you out-smart them; nevertheless, the image of the “weaker sex” in large animal medicine seems inappropriate. As students and young faculty members, we talked about the attitude of conservative farmer clients talking to female veterinarian as about breeding problems and pregnancy examination. As a result, it was surprising to see a recent faculty picture taken at another college with a female as head of equine medicine and surgery; the entire faculty and staff are now female. To repeat, not only is the faculty but the animal handlers are exclusively all female.

Obviously, it is politically incorrect to be offended by the fact that when given equal opportunity, females would become involved but why more females than males and in such a high ratio. If there are 100 seats in a veterinary class and it is equally difficult to pass entry examinations, etc., the shift in gender would suggest more females are applying for entry. It is not just that young girls fall in love with a horse as a very young age. The same shift of gender seems to be happening in veterinary medicine and human medicine as well.

Perhaps the gender gap is not just in professional schools aimed at caring professions but the phenomenon seems broader? American colleges for 35 years beginning in 1979, women have outnumbered men in American colleges. Nor is it one type of degree-granting institution; it applies to part-timers in community college to full-timers in private, as well as nonprofit colleges.

The basic fact remains, some career choices appeal to females more than to males. Data would indicate computer science, physics, and engineering are still overwhelmingly male. Females trend toward biology, social, and behavioral sciences and as just mentioned medicine. Nursing seems to be trending in the opposite direction; more males are enrolling in nursing programs, but certainly not in equal proportions.

Although the process is nowhere near complete, it seems as if we as a society are undergoing a fundamental change in attitude toward gender. Stephen Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, fascinated me; he clearly makes a case for a fundamental shift in human nature away from what appears to be an innate violence to peaceful coexistence. Perhaps a gender shift, so contrary to biological reality, is becoming equally universal and has the same basis; it is something we learned. Consider survival of the fittest in a caveman environment versus survival of the fittest in New York City. Think about what applies and what no longer applies; who is physically, stronger, acts as family head, who cooks, hunts and takes care of children. We have the police force to be strong. We have a political organization to make group decisions.

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