Stereotypes apparent in practice

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For clients who feel they haven't seen a real doctor until a man walks into the room, Dr. Linda Randall has a message: Go elsewhere.

For clients who feel they haven't seen a real doctor until a man walks into the room, Dr. Linda Randall has a message: Go elsewhere.

Dr. Linda Randall

The small animal and exotics practitioner from Medina County, Ohio, says she's dealt with plenty of owners harboring stereotypes in her 20-plus years of practice. And whether its because she's black or female, she just looks at them, smiles and sends them on their way.

"Clients are outspoken; they'll tell you what they want," Randall says. "Four or five years ago I had a male associate, and you could really see the difference in the way clients responded to him. You could see people would trust what he had to say even though he was a new veterinarian right out of school. I've also noticed that clients really want to see male veterinarians when getting second opinions. I'll give them a list of two or three names, and they'll always choose the man."

Gender divide

Society's idea that men are responsible, trustworthy and knowledgeable isn't breaking news. In fact, a four-year study of male and female executives by employee research firm ISR reveals there is a real gender divide. Men in management are more self-focused, concerned about their own careers and rewards while women are more compassionate and concerned about their co-workers and clients, the research shows.

Dr. Cheryl Whitfield, of Youngstown, Ohio, says clients view male veterinarians as authority figures.

"I think women are more compassionate and caring," she says. "But I have people tell me all the time that I look like a young girl. I get the feeling they're sometimes looking down on me. If you're an older male, you can be the worst vet out there, and clients still will have faith in you because that's the perception."

Employer experiences

Gender bias doesn't just come from clients, says Dr. Michelle Rupp, who recently started her own mobile clinic in Pottstown, Pa. It also comes from within the profession, she says.

"When I first started out, I went to an interview where all the doctors were male," she says. "When I told them what my salary requirement was, one of the doctors looked at me and said, 'For a woman in veterinary medicine, you won't make anywhere near that.' When they hired me for the job, I told them I wasn't interested."

Rupp experienced similar behavior years later while working for a large pharmaceutical company in Erie, Pa.

"My boss was quite a chauvinist," she says. "I could go in the office and make suggestions, and he would blow me off. A male co-worker could go in and suggest the same idea, and he would think it was brilliant. That's aside from the incidents when he would tell me it was time for me to start a family and have kids."

Deep-rooted notions

For Dr. Diane Flessas, of Northbridge, Mass., gender stereotyping might have contributed to the breakup of her first practice. After graduation, she opened a clinic with two classmates, one of whom is male.

"It was amazing," she says. "I could say something to a client, and they would question me. When he would go into the room, they would believe him. I think female veterinarians are more empathetic and compassionate, and that doesn't go in our favor. I would always say things like 'I don't know exactly what's wrong; let's do some test and find out,' while the male veterinarian would come across as a lot more sure of himself.

"Men come across reassuring and strong. As women, I don't think we're taught that," Flessas says.

Coping with labels is a learned behavior, she adds. While working at racetracks, Flessas dealt with a lot of male horse trainers, some who weren't thrilled to take advice from a female DVM.

"I heard a lot of, 'Go get your boss; we don't need a young girl treating our horses,'" she says. "I would just look at them and say, 'Too bad. I'm the vet you've got.'"

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