Cerys Goodall is the chief operating officer at Vetster.Read Articles Written by Cerys Goodall
Growing up, I wanted to work with animals. My original plan was to become an equine veterinarian. But I took a path less traveled and applied my love of science and communications to the technology industry. Nearly 20 years after making the decision, I was thrilled to bring my original dream and career path full circle when, in 2021, I joined Vetster, a digital platform dedicated to making veterinary care more accessible to pet owners around the world.
What I didn’t anticipate was how the same technology that was helping to improve access to expert veterinary care was also helping to address another crisis, one far more insidious. Equality.
The Gender Gap
Only in the past 30 years have women taken over to comprise 63% of practicing U.S. veterinarians and 80% of students enrolled in veterinary programs. Yet, sadly, the gender pay gap very much persists, even after controlling for factors such as experience, specialty and practice type. According to recent studies, female veterinarians earn up to $100,000 less annually than their male counterparts.
While the reasons for the gender pay gap are multifactorial, career progression is a large factor. Women are still expected to shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities in our families, and for many women, raising a family is ostensibly the primary reason for taking a career break or leaving the profession altogether.
Veterinarians already have the highest turnover rate in the medical field, but recent studies show that women are leaving at a much higher rate than men. It is a loss not just for these talented veterinarians but also for the veterinary community and the animals they serve.
I have experienced my fair share of on-the-job discrimination and workplace bias during my career in tech. I can only imagine the snowball effect that burnout and compassion fatigue have on an already stressful work environment for veterinary professionals. Throw in the fact that the average woman earns 92 cents for every dollar our male counterparts get for doing the same, if not more, work and you’ve got a pretty poor recipe for job retention and career progression.
Despite the industry now being more than 60% women-led, the systems and constraints of practicing don’t meet women’s needs. At a recent trade show, I spoke with one veterinarian, baby in tow, who had left her clinic because it could not accommodate a flexible work schedule for her.
Bridging the Gap With Technology
Thankfully, technological innovations are helping bridge the equity gap between genders. Women now can leverage technology to redefine when and where they practice and how much they are paid, helping them stay in the industry they love and on their terms.
Studies show that female veterinarians would take reduced pay if it meant greater job flexibility. In the virtual care arena, women don’t have to choose. Building a virtual practice through telehealth offers the freedom and income potential to be one’s own boss. Veterinarians can create their own schedules, set their rates and have greater control over their workloads. This approach allows them to customize their practice to suit their needs and priorities, whether it’s taking time off for family events, pursuing additional education or enjoying a better work-life balance.
Virtual care provides a way for individual practitioners and locums, as well as clinics and hospitals, to offer more options for their teams. Clinics working with telehealth companies can create virtual shifts for their teams so that the veterinary professionals work from home one or two days a week. Others choose to offload their overflow and non-urgent cases to the telehealth company and focus on higher priority cases in-clinic. Others still choose to hire someone to be exclusively virtual as a part of the practice.
This solution helps with retention and hiring and significantly improves overall work satisfaction.
For newer veterinarians, an added benefit is the ability to use virtual care in continuing education. I know of one doctor who uses virtual care to advance her practice of rodents, birds and other exotics she doesn’t often see in-clinic.
In a profession historically male-driven and structured in a way to meet those working requirements, technological innovations help address long-standing systemic issues.
Women are changing the game.