Photo Credit: Scott Nolen, AVMA
Karen Bradley, DVM
Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative President
Goodnewsforpets.com Publisher Lea-Ann Germinder met Dr. Karen Bradley for the very first time at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference just a few weeks ago. After attending 17 AVMA Conventions, it seems impossible to have missed her before, but we sure did. It will be impossible to miss her now and for good reason. As president of the newly formed Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative WVLDI, she’s poised to catapult the veterinary profession forward and lead in a way that suits today’s veterinary profession, the public and the animals we love and care for just fine. There have already been many articles written about the WVLDI initiative, this interview takes a bit more personal look at Dr. Bradley with plans to look at a few more of her contemporary veterinary colleagues who are changing the face of veterinary medicine.
Every veterinarian we’ve interviewed has a story about deciding to become a veterinarian. What is your story?
I may be the exception rather than the rule—it seems like many veterinarians knew what they wanted to do since childhood but I did not. I was one of those kids who had many professions on their “I want to be” list and even started college with a music scholarship for flute performance and a declared major of English. It was at that early college time that I met a woman veterinarian at our local veterinary clinic. She was recently graduated, young, smart, patient and caring. She was probably only about 8 years older than I was, and I realized that I was very interested in being like her. I had always loved animals and I had been very good at science and math, loved biology. Here was a role model, a woman doing what I had only previously seen “grandfatherly” men do.
My grandmother, a chemist for the National Institute of Health in the days when many women did not pursue such science careers also had a lot to do with it. I always admired her strong science career choice—she too had been a music major (a concert pianist who changed her major after accidentally receiving the wrong low grade for music performance! Once she was made aware of the error, she decided not to turn back.) I changed my major to biology and gave up the music scholarship on the path to get into veterinary school.
As a woman were you discouraged from becoming a veterinarian?
I never felt that I was discouraged from being a veterinarian as a woman. I grew up in the “Free to be You and Me” times, so I always thought I could do anything, and that girls could play with trucks and boys with dolls. The only discouragement I received was from college advisors who wanted me to be aware how very difficult it was to get into veterinary school and that I should have a back-up plan if I failed to gain admittance. I never came up with that back-up plan. Thankfully I didn’t need one!
What is your favorite aspect of practicing veterinary medicine today?
I still love the fact that I might see a challenging case or some illness I learned about but never had the chance to diagnose or treat — that my patients and clients can still keep me on my toes! I like collaborating with my fellow veterinarians to help a patient and truly love watching my veterinary staff team take such incredible care of the patients we see.
Women now represent 75-78 percent of the veterinary profession and the profession surpassed 50 percent women in 2009. What do you think draws so many women to the veterinary profession?
I am sure there is data or statistics from surveys for this question but my impression is that veterinary medicine appeals to the science girls in a way that the other health professions do not. It has all the science and discovery aspects while you get to do, or at least learn to do, cool things like work with zoo animals and people’s pets, horses, or livestock. Veterinary medicine is an easy career to see yourself doing—who doesn’t want to play with baby animals all day?
Kidding aside, I think some women are drawn to the ability to be a doctor but for non-human creatures. And veterinary medicine requires you to work with clients or pet owners or farmers and collaborate on what is best for the animal or animals in question. Scientific discovery, collaborating for solutions, and nurturing patients and human relationships are a natural fit to feminine nature.
How did you find the time to get involved in your state veterinary medical association? Were there any particular issues you were interested in impacting?
I was very fortunate to be recruited into my state veterinary medical association activities and the topic that caught my interest was animal welfare. I slowly added more to my plate by spearheading the effort to get a lobbyist to monitor for issues that might affect our member veterinarians and then ultimately headed to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) House of Delegates representing my state. One of my veterinary partners who is 20 years my senior was a role model for this as well. She had been quite active on our Vermont Veterinary Medical Association Executive Committee and served as the AVMA delegate, so it seemed pretty natural to be involved in these activities. She had done it as a single mom and practice owner, so I guess I just saw this involvement as something important.
With support from my veterinary partners, who also see the value in this participation, I am supported and able to find the time as well. If something is important to you, you find the time for it.
Can you tell us about the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) and your role?
The WVLDI is officially a 501c3 not-for-profit. I cannot take credit for its existence by myself. Like any good initiative, there is a group of dedicated people who are collaborating together to make this possible. All I did was feel there was a need to start such a group and was fortunate that my experience in AVMA activities had allowed me to cross paths with some amazing leaders throughout our profession. I sat down with Dr. Stacy Pritt at the July 2013 AVMA convention and we were joined by Ms. Julie Kumble, interim CEO of the Women’s Fund of Massachusetts, who works with women on gender issues in politics and professions and hatched the beginnings of the initiative. With Stacy’s experience in the Association of Women Veterinarians and vast AVMA experience—and a husband who is a web developer, we even had the www.womenveterinarians.org website live within two weeks.
When I called the other Board members and asked them to come together for this, they said yes! Our Board of Directors has the talents and skills of: Dr. Donald F. Smith of Cornell University Center for Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Eleanor Green, Dean of Texas A&M University CVM, Dr. Stacy Pritt of UT Southwestern in Texas, Dr. Lori Teller, a practitioner in Texas, Dr. Valerie E. Ragan of Virginia-Maryland Regional Center of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Rachel Cezar with the USDA Horse Protection Council, Dr. Douglas G. Aspros of New York, the AVMA immediate-past president, Ms. Julie Kumble, interim CEO of the Women’s Fund of Massachusetts, and Ms. Cassandra Tamsey, class of 2015 Texas A&M University as our veterinary student on the WVLDI Board. With support and collaboration with AVMA, we have been even more fortunate to have Dr. Elizabeth Sabin, AVMA Director of the Diversity Initiative join us as an ex officio Board member.
You decided to launch the Initiative using social media. Why was that?
The thought occurred to me this summer that a Facebook group might be a way to get people who care about women’s involvement in veterinary leadership to talk amongst themselves, to network and connect in between meetings. I realized that this could be a way to help invite, nudge, push, and empower more women to want to be involved. And let’s face it—it’s easy! I popped up a Facebook group and right after that a Linked In group easily and then started inviting and urging others to invite people to join. Social media is so accessible and is crossing the generational divide to bring people together for networking. We now have 620 Facebook fans, 300 Linked In members and are growing every day.
Are men involved in the initiative?
Yes—from the get-go! The WVLDI is not a man-bashing group, it is a women’s resource group. Our Board of Directors has two men and the social media groups have quite a few men as members and participants. We need men who are leaders in the profession right there with us, teaching and learning and growing together. The goal of the Initiative is to achieve gender balanced leadership—you wouldn’t have that without men. I like to remind the male leaders that they all have women who are important to them — daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, nieces, granddaughters that these men want to see achieve success and respect in their lives and careers. They need to join in this effort as if it is those women who are important to them they are helping to elevate.
How can someone get involved?
Join our Facebook and Linked In groups. We are growing and evolving every day—we’re still in our fledgling phase. Find our volunteer opportunity postings by following Facebook or Linked In, or in the near future by checking www.womenveterinarians.org and connect with us if you are interested in these opportunities. Come to our presentations at the national conferences including the North American Veterinary Conference, Western Veterinary Conference, SAVMA, regional meetings, and the AVMA convention. Join the conversation on the gender leadership gap and help us find ways to narrow this gap.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It’s thrilling and exciting to see this initiative grow in just six short months. This year, we are already off to a great start from the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference and now planning to have students become actively involved and many more ideas are being generated " all built on positive energy and optimism for what the future holds.
To contact Karen Bradley email her at KarenBDVM@yahoo.com
To contact Stacy Pritt email her at email@example.com