I’m thrilled to welcome one of my favorite mystery authors, Sandra Parshall, as a guest on today’s blog. Her award winning series features veterinarian Rachel Goddard, a passionate, strong-willed character with hidden vulnerabilities. The writing is flawless, the characters three-dimensional and memorable, and whenever I’m in the midst of one of her books, I find myself haunted by the depths of the story, unable to get it out of my mind. If you are new to the series, you should read the books in order, beginning with HEAT OF THE MOON. Just be aware that you may not be able to put this book down.
Today Sandra offers some thoughts on her main character’s profession of veterinarian. Please join me in welcoming her to the blog.
I’m always amused when a reader or interviewer asks if I’m a veterinarian.
Me? Perish the thought.
The work of a veterinarian like my protagonist, Dr. Rachel Goddard, requires a type of emotional strength I will never possess. A good vet is a marvel to me – and by “good” I mean one who is both skillful and gentle, compassionate with pet owners but tough about doing what’s best for the animal. I imagine it’s not unlike being a pediatrician for very young children who can’t communicate verbally. But a vet carries a burden that no pediatrician does: he or she frequently must make the recommendation that it’s time to bring a painless end to the patient’s suffering.
I couldn’t do it. I can’t imagine myself euthanizing an animal – or working with sick animals day after day. Taking care of healthy pets during routine visits for checkups and vaccines is no picnic either. People go into veterinary medicine because they love animals, then spend their whole careers being hissed at, growled at, scratched and occasionally bitten by their terrified, I-don’t-want-to-be-here! patients
Rachel is made of stronger stuff than I am, and I admire her for it. She cares deeply about her patients, but she does what is necessary to heal them, end their pain, or see to their basic medical needs. I didn’t base Rachel on a particular person, but she shares her gentle approach to caring for animals with our real-life female vet.
When I started writing about Rachel – in The Heat of the Moon (2006) – we’d already had a couple of female vets for our cats, and the friend who volunteered to help me get the animal medicine details right was a woman vet, but I still thought I was clever to choose an unusual occupation for my protagonist. Before long, though, I realized my fiction was following a real-life trend. In 2009, for the first time, women outnumbered men in the veterinary profession, and that majority has continued to grow. Today nearly 80% of veterinary students are female. Vet colleges are now actively working to recruit more male students to maintain diversity.
What explains the shift? A lot of veterinarians might say it’s because their profession doesn’t pay as well as other branches of medicine, and men aren’t as willing as women to accept an average salary of $70,000 to $80,000 after investing the time and money to complete their training. If a man loves animals and wants to work with them, though, the prospect of a middling income won’t stop him any more than it will stop a woman. The change in vet college enrollment may simply be a reflection of the general shift in education: since 2000, women students have outnumbered men in U.S. colleges.
The new female majority is changing the profession. Women will always be the ones who have the babies, and this basic fact of human existence must be taken into account. Flexible schedules and part-time employment have become more common for vets who are mothers. Some prejudice against women still exists, of course, both among pet owners and male owners of veterinary clinics, but the sheer number of women in the profession should eventually eliminate any lingering bias.
I admire anyone, male or female, who chooses to work for the benefit of animals. I hope my respect for veterinarians shows in my portrayal of Rachel. I get a kick out of writing her because she’s so much stronger and smarter than I am, and through her I can vicariously do some of the things I’m too much of a wuss to do in real life.
Sandra Parshall is the author of the Agatha Award-winning Rachel Goddard mystery series. The fifth in the series, BLEEDING THROUGH, will be published September 4.