The next generation of rural and bovine veterinarians

Work-family balance, quality medicine are goals every generation shares
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Gender and generational issues are influencing recruitment of the next generation of bovine and rural veterinarians, according to speakers at the recent annual conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

Dr. Aurora Villarroel, an extension veterinarian at Oregon State University, presented preliminary results of a survey about why veterinarians go into or get out of rural practice—which may or may not include food animals.

The survey was a joint project of six collaborators from Oregon State, the Academy of Rural Veterinarians, The Ohio State University, Michigan State University, and Colorado State University.

More than 1,400 veterinarians and veterinary students responded to the survey. Dr. Villarroel said the data broke down into patterns by respondents' background, region, and generation. The data did not break down into patterns as much by gender.

Respondents with a rural background and livestock experience often developed an interest in rural practice before eighth grade, while respondents with an urban background and no livestock experience sometimes developed an interest in rural practice during veterinary school. A major factor was the influence of relatives who worked in rural areas or veterinarian mentors who worked in rural practice.

"We can still make a difference in vet school, but we need to focus early on," Dr. Villarroel said.

The main reasons that veterinarians left rural practice included emergency duty, lack of time off, salary issues, practice atmosphere, and family concerns. The tough schedule of a rural practitioner was of particular concern to generations X and Y, the two generations following the baby boomers.

Work schedule

Time to have a family is an issue for the young women who are increasingly going into bovine or mixed animal practice, according to female speakers who described "A day in the life of a bovine veterinarian" during a student session.

Dr. Elizabeth Tabor

Don't feel you have to choose work or family. The number one reason it works is time management, so absolutely you can do both.


Dr. Elizabeth Tabor, a 2002 Auburn University graduate and new mother, described how she and her husband are operating a mixed animal practice and raising a son in Russellville, Ky.

Dr. Tabor said she and husband John (AUB '04) share their business and parenting duties. He does most of the ambulatory work, while she works out of the office. Two staff members take care of the baby and answer the phones.

"Don't feel you have to choose work or family," Dr. Tabor said to the students. "The number one reason it works is time management, so absolutely you can do both."

Dr. Mira McGregor

I'm an example of 'Don't have a life, work really hard, and focus on one animal.'


Dr. Mira McGregor, a 1999 University of Pennsylvania graduate, said she hopes to marry and have children but has not worked out the details. So far, she has been focusing on her dairy practice in New Mexico and Texas.

She admitted that hasn't really been an example of balance. "I'm an example of 'Don't have a life, work really hard, and focus on one animal.'"

Dr. McGregor spoke with enthusiasm about her work. Her marathon Mondays start before 5 a.m. with a 77-mile drive to a 6,000-cow dairy farm. She walks a couple of miles checking on new calves, palpating cows, and attending to various other duties. Later, she returns to the office for paperwork. Many other workdays are similarly intense.

Although she has taken only two vacations in eight years, Dr. McGregor advised the students to take a vacation every year and find time for other fun. She has found time to compete in triathlons, for example.

Generation gap

Dr. Michael Capel, a 2000 Cornell University graduate and a mixed animal practitioner in upstate New York, spoke before the first AABP job fair about how to bridge the generation gap.

"Don't close your mind before the conversation ever starts," Dr. Capel said.

He said generations X and Y tend to be less formal, to be less intimidated by authority figures, and to want to spend more time at home. Baby boomers are likely to take the most pride in their work and to think that work comes first.

Dr. Capel advised practice owners and new associates to be patient after a hire. His tips for owners were to offer time off, provide training, give bonuses and recognition, consider nontraditional schedules, and be open to suggestions and discussion.

Tips for new associates were to be respectful when bringing up issues, realize that most income still comes from technical tasks rather than production medicine, and earn the trust of clients to be able to serve as more of an adviser than a technician.

In the end, Dr. Capel said, veterinarians of every generation share the goals of work-family balance and quality medicine.