In May we will travel to North Carolina to hear our granddaughter take the Veterinarian's Oath. New this year will be an addition to the oath approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association late last year. Four words were added that make clear that veterinarians will play an active role in preventing suffering and promoting welfare as well as treating disease and relieving pain. That small change may shed some light on the big change in the practice of veterinary medicine.
Fifty years ago veterinary medicine was a man's work. Large animal care dominated the practice. Physical strength and a high tolerance for muddy fields and drafty barns were required. Less than 5% of the vets were women. Today women are the majority in the profession. At the 28 academic programs in the United States, 70 - 90% of the students are women. These women are smart and disciplined, and they also share the traits passed down from mother to daughter to nurture and protect the helpless. The new oath places vets on the path to advocacy on behalf of animal welfare - a broader and more complex role than the difficult but focused delivery of a breech calf. Did the ranks of women who have entered the profession drive the change, or did the emerging agenda of welfare protection and prevention of suffering appeal to women candidates? I guess it doesn't matter which came first. Our granddaughter will be right at home with the mission.