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Tips for female success in bovine practice

Jessica Laurin for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 October 2017

I have been active on the Veterinary Practice Sustainability Committee of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) for the past five years. 

The members of the committee have been great to work with and are very proactive on tackling issues in the workplace.

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Last September at the AABP annual conference, our committee presented an afternoon session focusing on women’s issues in the agricultural workplace.

As a veterinarian in practice for more than 20 years, I try not to single myself out as a woman when working with cattle. I believe that with today’s facilities, knowledge of animal handling, behaviour and workplace safety, it shouldn’t be about gender.

It is more about personal preparation and knowledge. This can also apply to women (and men) who own or are employed by beef or dairy cattle operations.

When I presented “Strategies to Promote Success for Women in Bovine Practice” at the AABP conference to about 200 bovine veterinarians and veterinary students, I was happy to see both male and female veterinarians in the audience because I believe the following points are important to new veterinary associates, regardless of gender:

1.  Be in good physical shape. Cattle practice is physical. It includes being on your feet, pushing and pulling, bending over, lifting up, and on and on. If you don’t keep yourself in good physical shape, you are more likely to be injured.

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Some people say they do enough physical activity at work, that they are tired at the end of the day and just want to sit down. But working out at least three times a week should be part of your goal to keep yourself active and fit so you can do a better job at work, relieve stress and enjoy the task at hand.

2. No “plumber’s crack.” Appropriate dress in the workplace is a must. For my staff, I request jeans, shirt and closed-toe shoes. Coveralls or other protective gear are necessary in messy situations.

But clothes that do not appropriately cover body parts should not be a part of the workplace. I had a colleague tell me about a young veterinarian he hired. She was tall, fit and attractive, so the clients liked her.

But when she bent down to work on a horse or cow foot, her thong underwear showed over her pants. He is a kind man and struggled with how to tell her that was inappropriate.

3. Be familiar with the local ag economy. It is important to understand livestock and grain markets. Also, you should know the crops in your area, when they are planted and harvested, and be able to have a dialogue with farm management. It shows your knowledge of the operation.

4. Know your equipment. Being mechanical is not a trait by gender. As a veterinarian, if I get called out to a farm to do work, I need to know the use and maintenance of any equipment I carry on my truck. I have seen new associates not take the time to do so and fail.

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Also, maintenance of trucks, livestock chutes and barn facilities is imperative to the safety and well-being of personnel and livestock. I do expect my associates to know the basics of truck maintenance.

In this era, it typically means knowing which shop to take it to, knowing when to change and rotate tires, and when to have the oil changed. I don’t expect my veterinarians to know how to weld, but they need to be responsible to bring repair needs to management.

5. Be determined to finish. Once I commit to a calf pull or C-section, it is my responsibility to see it through. With each professional task I start, it is my personal responsibility to complete it. I can’t stop and just walk away halfway through.

I can get frustrated, take a step back, ask for help or take a breath, then return to the task at hand. Sometimes tasks are very physical, so it is personally up to me to be in good shape to do such. New veterinarians who show determination and strive to finish will also succeed.

6. Above all, enjoy your career. My 20-plus years of being a veterinarian have been extremely satisfying, and I have no idea what other career I would have chosen.

There are days and weeks that are tough. There are mornings I wake up early worrying. That being said, you have to have a bit of a tough skin to be in rural cattle practice. But the rewards more than fill up the basket, and I wouldn’t trade it.

If you are in a job where the rewards don’t overcome the tough times, then you should choose another path. But having a career that puts me in a position to care for God’s creatures is a blessing in itself.  end mark

Jessica Laurin, DVM, owns two mixed-animal veterinary practices in Marion and Herington, Kansas. Jessica Laurin is with Animal Health Center of Marion County. Email Jessica Laurin.

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