The Feminization of Veterinary Medicine – The “Little Girl Cow Vet”

I have had this blog for many years. I have shared veterinary medicine stories, homeschooling stories, life stories, gardening, and recipes. It tends to be my “catch-all” place to write.

Well, I have decided to write down some of my most memorable veterinary moments. I have shared these stories at random times and places through the years, but I have never written them down. Now I would like to share them with you.

I graduated from the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1998. My class was the very first one to hit the 50% female mark. Veterinary Medicine had been primarily male up to this point, so when I graduated and went into Large Animal Medicine, an even more traditionally “male” job, I knew I would encounter some push-back from the older male clients.

Added to that, I graduated at a young age, just 24 years old. I worked hard to complete my undergraduate degree quickly, because I simply couldn’t afford to take my time to finish college. I lived on “noodle casserole” and gifted deer meat for the majority of my college years. Most of my classmates were at least 2 years older than me, some much more so.

I am not a large person at 5′ 4″ and usually around 124#. I may pack a few more pounds in the winter months, and lose a few in the scorching south Louisiana heat and humidity summers. But in general, I am not a large person.

So imagine the talk when I graduated as a small, young 24 yr old female and went to work for an older vet in his 60s who did horse and cow work, mostly mobile. We are talking about pulling calves, palpating cows, suturing large lacerations on large horses, and working herds of cows and barns full of horses on a daily basis. Something not a lot of young women were doing in the late 90s. Not to say some weren’t doing it, just that it was not commonplace. Especially in south Louisana.

Now that you have the background, let me proceed with telling you one of my favorite veterinary memories as a new graduate.

My boss and I shared on-call duties. That meant when someone called the clinic after hours, they would get a message for whom to contact, either myself or Dr. Knight (who was an AMAZING mentor and believed I could do anything he could do).

One night I received a call about a cow in labor. The man on the line was not super excited about me coming to see his cow. “I mean, I have 4 other men out here, and we have all tried to pull this calf, and we can’t. I don’t know if you will be able to do anything.”

I assured him I would be on my way shortly. He said they had the cow caught in a squeeze chute and would be awaiting my arrival. When I pulled up, sure enough, there were several men standing around looking at the cow and sizing me up. I introduced myself, examined the cow, and formulated my treatment plan. I determined that the calf was coming out with both front feet like it should, but the head was turned back to the calf’s right side. The malposition of the head and neck had to be corrected before the calf could fit through the birth canal.

I aseptically prepared the cow’s spine and administered an epidural (which I highly recommend for all species during the birth process). Once she was relaxed and no longer trying to birth a calf that wouldn’t fit, I was able to reach in, get a loop around the calf’s head, return it to the proper anatomical position, and pull the calf out. All of this probably took less than 45 minutes.

While I was cleaning up and repacking my supplies into my truck, a woman walked onto the back porch and promptly began heckling her husband and his friends. It was a good distance from the back porch to the cow pen, so she was yelling to make sure she was heard by everyone out there.

“You and all your big man friends couldn’t get that calf out. You had to call that little girl vet out here to do it for you!” And she laughed and laughed at them.

Newborn calf

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, as I was a new vet and wasn’t used to dealing with people late into the night yet. I just politely presented the bill and went home.

Well, the next morning I discovered the source of her glee. I walked into the clinic and Dr. Knight asked how the calf delivery had gone. I couldn’t understand how he knew before I had told him about it. That cattle owner had called the answering service and upon discovering I was on call, he called my boss instead. Dr. Knight assured him I could get the job done and if I could not, he would come himself, but only after I had tried.

Sweet Jersey heifer

So the wife had been witness to all that had occurred before I arrived on the scene. She was overjoyed and reveling in the success I had “in a man’s world”.

Today female veterinarians are no longer the exception, but rather the norm. I am so grateful to my very first boss and mentor who had the faith in me to trust me to get the job done with his old-school clientele.

Happy Sunday everyone!

I’ll sprinkle in some calf pictures just for fun.

Newborn in my house? Yep. Orphan.

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