Friday, September 3, 2010

Veterinary fact of the day: changing the face of large animal medicine

A few days ago in anesthesia lecture, Dr. Drile announced, “Now we are going to learn about xylazine. All of you in the audience who are women, or men under 200 pounds, can be thankful for this drug.” She then plunged into her lecture on xylazine, and it took several minutes for her to get around to explaining why I should be thankful for it, during which time I was mostly distracted by what a weird introduction that had been.

Eventually we got to a slide depicting a small woman leading an enormous draft horse, and Dr. Drile explained. Xylazine is a really excellent sedative/tranquilizer, used primarily in large animals (although also sometimes in small animals). Before we had xylazine for chemical restraint, we had to physically restrain these enormous animals in order to do simple procedures on them. This was difficult and dangerous, and if you were a small person, you couldn’t easily do it. Xylazine hit veterinary medicine around the 1970s, which coincides with an increasing influx of women into the field. The estimates vary for women in veterinary medicine now, but we decidedly dominate numerically. In my first year class, there were 70 women and 12 men. My school recently spent a hefty chunk of change to remodel the anatomy building’s changing rooms, to increase the space in the women’s room at the expense of the men’s. There are, of course, lots of reasons why there are so many more women in veterinary medicine now than there used to be, but this was one I hadn’t considered before.

Thanks to xylazine, veterinary medicine is no longer a wrestling match. I am, accordingly, grateful.

What I did today: Quiz in zoological medicine (not supposed to be hard, and wasn’t). Gym! Two hours of dermatology lecture (new class, very engaging guest speaker). Lunch! (Went to meeting about how the lottery for scheduling our clinical rotations will work.) One hour of small animal medicine lecture (vaccines). Out super early.


  1. Intersting. But how many of the women are interested in large animal medicine? We work a lot with vets but I only know maybe 3 women who are large animal vets--still seems to be a male-dominated field.

  2. It's a good point. I think food animal medicine is still male-dominated. I see a lot of women in equine medicine, though; I'm not sure which you meant when you said large animal.

    Also, there is something to be said for chemical restraint in small animals. While women are certainly strong enough to handle struggling dogs, I think we would be less likely to tolerate a career that requires that we do so frequently. Maybe I'm over-generalizing there.

    Finally, lots of vet schools (like mine) don't allow tracking, so women have to handle large animals in school even if they plan to be small animal practitioners. Would I have been more hesitant to go in to vet school if I had been told I'd have to handle struggling horses and been told I wasn't strong enough to do it? Did schools make allowances for that? Who knows.

  3. Picked this up via Heathen Hub.

    This is strange. My neighbor about 1975 was a dainty farrier. She regaled me with many stories about your so-called enormous animals and what one has to do to keep 'em from leaning on ones dainty self. 'Course, this was in Texas, where the men were men and women something else.

    I think a lot of it has to do with changing perceptions. Back in, say, 1960, it would have been harder because women were expected to be secretaries and teachers, not doctors—nor vets. By 1970 the tide was changing.

  4. A fair comment. I wonder how often farriers use sedation? But yeah, I think there were a lot of things going on around that time.