First published on Wednesday the 14th of December, 2016, this piece comes in at number 9 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
Last week, Massey University Chancellor Chris Kelly made a series of comments about female veterinary students. One such student, Ellen Hodder, felt compelled to respond.
I have just finished my first year in your veterinary science course at Massey University. Being accepted into this course has been a goal for me for as long as I can remember and receiving the acceptance letter is one of my greatest achievements.
The lead up to being accepted was difficult. Academically, everyone struggled equally with the high standard required as a result of the selection process. I, along with the rest the rest of the female 85 per cent of the applicants who were accepted into first year vet, however, have struggled socially from when we were gifted Barbies and baby dolls instead of trucks and science kits. We have struggled by being told that we’re not good enough to enter into a career in STEM by people like James Watson and Tim Hunt. I was pleased, however, that the career I had chosen and the education that led me to that career seemed to be of greater equality. Massey set the bar at a height that everyone had to jump.
I now see that I was mistaken. I am deeply offended by your comments that, “…one woman graduate is equivalent to two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet throughout her life because she gets married and has a family, which is normal.” This is not only demeaning women and our ability to carry out our work and contribute to society but men as well, in making the assumption that men do not want to contribute to their own family, nor enjoy a healthy work-life balance – the very balance that the vet faculty drums into vet students from the start.
I appreciate though, that your interview was orientated toward that fact that there is a deficit for large animal vets in rural New Zealand.
The fact that we have a deficit for rural vets is not a gender problem. I, for one, grew up on a dairy farm with my parents and hope to one day give back to my community and work in a local practice. The deficit is a social problem. It’s a problem related to the sheer number of students coming from the city, the sheer number of people who live in Auckland. As I am sure you are well aware, only one fifth of New Zealand’s population lives in the South Island. According to Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand:
“Three out of four New Zealanders live in urban areas of 10,000 people or more. Half are concentrated in just four cities - Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch. Only one in seven people live in rural areas.”
Therefore, only one in seven of your possible veterinary students will come from rural areas, and be already interested in large animals.
You have said that, “some struggle with some of the tasks on-farm because there is a hard, physical component in a large-animal practice.” Though this is true, do not make the assumption that the “some” who struggle are female. The most highly regarded veterinarians in my rural town are women, one of whom successfully performed an incredibly hard calving on our farm only two weeks before giving birth herself. I think you will find that the hard, physical component is not the barrier to vets of either gender succeeding in rural practice.
Social issues are also the root cause of the gender disparity in the veterinary course. Your assertion that, “75-85 per cent of vet students are women…” is because 75-85 percent of people who apply for first year vet are female. The ratio does not change through the cull, despite your unfair assumption that men, “…find out about booze and all sorts of crazy things…” The people who are accepted into the veterinary science course are those who work the hardest and deserve to be there and deserve to be held in a higher regard. These are some of your hardest working, and highest achieving students.
As a solution to the perceived problem of gender disparity in vets, perhaps you need to work at attracting more male vets to apply for the course. And if you are truly interested in increasing the number of large animal vets produced by Massey, perhaps you could consider attracting more rural students to apply.
UPDATE: Late on the 14th of December, Massey University announced that Chris Kelly had decided to step down as Chancellor. “Having had time to carefully consider the views of many staff, students and stakeholders, I believe that it is in the interests of the University that I step aside,” he said.