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Dr. Megan Andeer with daughter Anna
Photo by Jerry Foss
Dr. Megan Andeer enjoys her free time with her daughter Anna. By becoming a practice owner, Andeer could take more control of her schedule and accommodate her family life, but she says ownership isn’t feasible for everyone.
Sitting down on my “day off” recently, I came across a column in the New York Times, written by Nicholas Kristof, extolling the virtues of the veterinary and pharmaceutical professions for treating working mothers (“Do veterinarians and pharmacists show how mothers can make careers? “). As the owner of the practice for four years and a vet for almost 20 years, I almost suffocated.
When my daughter was born, I returned to work after two months. One month was covered by sick leave I had accumulated over 10 years; the second month was unpaid. That was nine years ago. To this day, paid maternity or paternity leave is uncommon in veterinary practice. Larger company owners give new parents paid leave, but many practices are still small independent businesses for the time being.
I’ve read many reviews of veterinarians returning to work after giving birth, wondering if they have the time (let alone a place) to express milk while they work, a real problem where lunch breaks are often mythical. I know I struggled to find the time. Many of my clients got used to the background noise of the breast pump while I explained the nuances of kidney disease and hyperthyroidism on the phone.
Although women currently make up the bulk of the veterinary profession, gender pay is still not fair. I am not sure whether this is because fewer women have practices or otherwise occupy higher positions. For example, my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has had only one dean since it was founded in 1884.
I made the decision to become a practice owner to make sure that I am a more balanced person for my family and have some autonomy. Not all working mothers have this option. With veterinarians ‘rising student debts, non-compete clauses that limit veterinarians’ ability to strike themselves, and the majority of childcare that is still carried out by working mothers, clinic ownership and the benefits that come with it are out of reach for women.
The chance for our profession to improve job flexibility for working mothers diminishes when we are unable to take on leadership roles Veterinary clinic companies like Mars. Larger companies may offer vacations for new parents, but not flexible planning, or they may change opening hours without warning. Supporting families is about more than parental leave.
Kristof’s opinion piece begins by saying, “Vets and pharmacists may be able to help us with more than our pets and pills. Perhaps they can lead America towards a society that works better for America’s mothers.”
How do vets do it? This is the scope of his statement: “In the past, veterinarians like top lawyers, financiers, and business consultants often worked long and irregular hours. Dogs triumphed, veterinary families suffered. But 77 percent of new veterinarians are female, and they and they have a system of groups and Developed emergency practices that are more family-friendly: if Rover gets sick at night, take him to a 24-hour emergency clinic. “
Attributing the growth of veterinary referral and emergency centers to the mothers in the veterinary workforce is strange. Who, he thinks, works in our female-dominated profession in emergency clinics? The increasing number of specialist centers reflects the changes in the standard of care brought about by Expectation and willingness to pay of the animal owners for complex and specialized treatments. In addition, the presence of emergency and referral hospitals has not reduced the working hours of many in this profession. Many of us are still on call like our colleagues and work well beyond the family dinner time.
I can’t help but wonder if Kristof spoke to vets before writing the play.
If you read his column, you might think that all vet mothers see cats and dogs and work from 9 to 5. The reality is that GPs in rural areas are still treating patients day and night. Large animal veterinarians continue to work long, physically demanding hours for pay that is inconsistent with the hours worked. I know many mothers who have been forced to leave the large animal practice due to the lack of flexibility that continues to permeate this sector.
Kristof also doesn’t seem to be aware of the growing psychological crisis at work. The pressure to take care of our patients, communicate with stressed and angry customers, and still be there for our families requires a balancing act few of us really manage, and the constant effort puts a strain on our well-being. This has become even more evident during the pandemic. Who knows how much the shortage of staff in veterinary medicine was made more difficult last year by the lack of access to childcare and accommodation in the companies?
While I love my career, I can’t say it’s a win for working mothers. My business partner (also a vet) and I strive to make our practice a better place for all women, mothers or not. Unless we ask that of society as a whole, I don’t think there is a job that can be described as a career that works for mothers.
About the author: Dr. Megan Andeer grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine in 2001. After doing a rotating internship at the South Shore Animal Hospital outside of Boston, she returned to Philadelphia to devote her career to cat medicine. Andeer became a co-owner of City Cat Vets in 2017. In order to support employees and their families, the practice provides places outside the clinic for children in the event of a child care failure and enables team members to make it an important child. Events and promotes the arranging of appointments for mental health and preventive care. Andeer has a daughter, Anna, and six cats.