100 Years of Female Vets

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

On the 23rd December 1919 Royal Assent was given to the ‘Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919’ which did away with all legal barriers and opened up the veterinary profession to women. This act enabled women like Aileen Cust, who had completed her veterinary degree in 1897, some twenty-two years previously, to become legally able to practise her degree in veterinary medicine. She was the first woman on the Royal College register of Veterinary Surgeons in 1922 and now many others have followed in her renowned footsteps. What a fantastic milestone and one to be celebrated indeed! In our profession where women now outweigh men practising in the UK, this is very hard to comprehend now 100 years on.

There are many influential female veterinary surgeons, past and present, and many strong women vets now in positions of power and leadership. Amanda Boag and Mandisa Greene are the past and incoming presidents of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Daniella Dos Santos is the current British Veterinary Association president. These are all admirable women all deserving of immense respect for the influential positions they have held. They are an inspiration to us all.

As a young girl going through school, I had always wanted to be a vet from an early age. I saw practice and helped at the local vets in my hometown at the weekends and on holidays. Even in the 1970's it was very hard for a female applicant to get into vet school and male students outweighed the females. I was told by the senior vet working at my local practice, when asking him about a degree in veterinary medicine: "Ah, Alison,  you make a grand cup of coffee lassie, but you won't make a vet”. Understandably, I was furious and I was even more determined after this point to make the grades required to apply for the degree course.

With that determination and a sense that I had to prove myself, I made it into and through vet school and I graduated in July 1983.  In 2011 I was awarded the Petplan Industry award of Petplan ‘Vet of the Year’. I was the first ever female vet in the UK to receive this prestigious award, of which I am proud and grateful that my clients nominated me. It has not been without some stress though, juggling my passion for my vocation with family life and parenting has been difficult at times. In different chapters in my life and career I have experienced various jobs in locations throughout the UK. There has been times that it’s been hard work and extremely challenging to find a good balance. I do hope that this will get easier in the future for my female colleagues. Now into my thirty seventh year in practice, I hope that I can be an inspiration and mentor to other young, female vets progressing through their career.

The veterinary profession is now 60% female, as it has been since the late 2000's. Thinking with admiration now of all my amazing female colleagues past and present, what a milestone we have reached. That law change 100 years ago has offered us all the chance as female vets to pursue our vocation and careers and to fulfil our aspirations. I know that Aileen Cust would have been proud.