Dr. Karen Bradley graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1996. Early in her career she worked companion animal relief and emergency medicine in the Atlanta area before relocating to Vermont. There she joined Onion River Animal Hospital in 2000, becoming a partner in 2003 and to this day, co-owns the clinic with 2 other female veterinarians practicing small animal medicine and surgery. She became involved in organized veterinary medicine in Vermont 6 years into her professional career, instigated by the practice’s founding female partner who had given many years of volunteer service to both the Vermont VMA and the AVMA (she served as alternate and delegate to the HOD). She was invited to the table that is veterinary leadership.
In the Vermont VMA, she has spearheaded and chaired the Legislative Advisory (now Governmental Relations) Committee and is a past chair and member of the VVMA Animal Welfare Committee. She has served on the VVMA Executive Board since 2003 and in the AVMA HOD representing Vermont since 2008. She was elected by the HOD to the House Advisory Committee (HAC) in 2010 and served as HAC vice chair 2011-2012 and chair (and thereby an invited participant to the AVMA Executive Board) 2012-2013. From 2013 to 2014, she chaired the AVMA Governance Engagement Team (GET), a group charged with taking the Task Force on Governance and Member Participation (TFGMP) model to all AVMA members and entities, receiving and reconciling all feedback, and creating a proposal for substantial AVMA governance change to the EB. She helped found the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) with an advisory board of dedicated individuals and currently serves as president of this not-for-profit initiative. Find the WVLDI on the web at womenveterinarians.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Karen lives in Montpelier, Vermont with her husband and their 2 children and probably too many animals.
Rebecca: Tell me a little about yourself and how you got to where you are now.
Karen: Where I am now in my veterinary career setting just sort of evolved really. I relocated to Vermont from Atlanta, GA four years after graduation with my husband. The practice where I chose to take an associate veterinary position was located in the area we wanted to live and was a multi-doctor practice owned by two women veterinarians. It was a clinic that fostered a culture of collaboration and case-sharing where I knew I could learn and grow as a veterinarian and be satisfied with the quality of medicine the clinic provided. Within two years of working at this clinic, the ownership shifted to one of the partners and she has always been very committed to not being a solo owner. She worked with my other partner to help us see the benefits of practice ownership and honestly, to make it feel within reach. We formed a really good partnership agreement and because she was so committed to us buying in, she financed us. And here I am, a 1/3 owner of a successful practice and looking to expand and grow our practice in the near future.
Rebecca: I think that is fantastic. How to obtain practice ownership is absolutely something that we have to address as a profession, because, I think that is a hugely overwhelming topic for most associate veterinarians.
Karen: It was a win-win for all of us.
Rebecca: That is great. I think we’ve absolutely got to be creative and not try to do things the way it was done 10 or 15 years ago because the “old way” of doing things just isn’t going to work.
Rebecca: You’re involved with AVMA too? What exactly do you do?
Karen: Where I am now in the organized vet med world is serving my last year as delegate to the AVMA HOD for Vermont, serving my first of two years as the president of the WVLDI, and a member of my Vermont VMA’s governmental relations committee, having chaired it since its inception 10 years ago. I have served on the AVMA HAC as well including 1 year as the chair where I represented the HOD on the AVMA Board as a non-voting member.
Rebecca: Why did you start the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative?
Karen: It really started from my experiences in the organized vet med world of AVMA. As I sat through and participated in committee meetings, Board meetings, and the general House meetings, I was constantly aware of the smaller number of women than men at those leadership tables. There is a generational gap as well so it is a little hard to tease apart the lack of younger generation vets (who are predominantly female) in this setting.
When the topic would come up, excuses for why the women vets weren’t there would be thrown around by theorizing members, often who were male and many years my senior, that had no evidence to back them up. Some of the theories were down right sexist.
I was fortunate to have formed connections with other vet leaders who also felt that this discrepancy between the high number of women in the profession and the minuscule number of women in the leadership needed to be corrected, sooner than later.
The argument I hear the most for why the WVLDI isn’t necessary: eventually all the “old guys” (not my words) will die off and the women will be in charge then. But that is not good enough. Why would we settle for “someday it will be more fair” when we can work right now to get women veterinarians to the decision-making tables so they can help shape the profession for the future?
And it has to be said—I could not have started or maintained this initiative on my own. Our Board members, most of them founding members, are amazing and each of them serve as role models to me: Drs. Douglas Aspros, Rachel Cezar, Eleanor Green, Bridget Heilsberg, Stacy Pritt, Valerie Ragan, Beth Sabin, Don Smith, Lori Teller, Ms. Cassandra Tamsey (DVM 2015) and Ms. Julie Kumble.
Rebecca: That’s great.
Rebecca: The thing is too that if you haven’t been involved for 20 years, all of a sudden all these people are going to step up and be involved. I’m not sure that would happen without mentoring and leadership along the way. That’s a big leap for somebody to take. By the time they get to the latter part of their career, they may not even want to do that, where in the midst of their career, they really get what goes on and what the issues are that address all of us.
Karen: Exactly. When you think about the board level or the House of Delegates level, those are high enough decision-making levels, even just the committees and councils. If they’re looking at any issue … I just feel like we all look at the world through our own lens. The lens of someone who’s been a veterinarian for 40 years, is prominent, is well-to-do, they’ve had a successful career financially, they’re semi-retired, so they can travel a lot and go to meetings, versus someone who’s in their early career, who has a lot more stressors on them, that different lens really brings perspective to the table, so that those decisions could go very differently. Frankly, technology needs to catch up to our organizations. You can communicate through Facebook, email, list-serves and conference calls.
Rebecca: Yes, absolutely we are behind the times with regards to technology.
Rebecca: What do you think the biggest challenge is going to be in veterinary medicine, say, over the next decade?
Karen: Well, I attended the AVMA Economics Summit a few weeks ago and obviously, what I heard and learned there is still pretty fresh in my mind. The biggest challenge I see for the next decade is the dismal ROI (return on investment) that veterinarians graduating are facing. The amount that veterinary students are borrowing during their education versus the income they can expect to make once they are a veterinarian in the current state does not seem like a sustainable model.
I see this perfect, horrible storm of disillusionment, depression, burnout, and in general, a crisis of wellness for the veterinarians. How easy it can to buckle under all of these stressors for high-achieving medical professionals, who are not always able to recognize their need for help or go looking for the help they need. We must develop more support and wellness for each other—sooner than later.
Rebecca: I totally agree. We must come together and be willing to share that maybe we don’t know everything and have all the answers which is definitely not how we were trained.
Rebecca: What do you think veterinary medicine is going to be like in 10-15 years?
Karen: Specialization of care will certainly be even more commonplace than it is now. In the next decade it is projected that approximately 36,000 veterinarians will retire—that’s a lot of veterinarians who have been practice owners and some of those practices will cease to exist as there is a much smaller population of veterinarians who want to work on their own and corporate ownership of the largest and strongest practice continues to advance.
Obviously, in 10 years, we will likely see a much higher percent of the practicing veterinarians are women, the number I have seen is 55% of the current US veterinarians are female and as we graduate 78% female veterinarians over the next decade, I would imagine the percent would be more like 65% in 10 years.
Rebecca: Yes, and going back to what you were talking about earlier, this exact thing exists as far as that male/female issue with American College of Veterinary Surgeons. We just had our annual meeting, and they approved this new program called “Honor a Mentor.” It’s a great program. Once a certain amount of money gets donated in that Mentor’s honor then they get recognized by the ACVS. The first 10 Mentors were announced and not a single one was a woman.
A friend of mine who I trained with said “that is completely unacceptable”, so, we’re in the process of funding the program for two women who trained us and are just wonderful, wonderful mentors. The same thing with the leadership within the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. My guess is it’s probably similar in all the specialties.
Karen: I know that AAEP, had their first woman president, Eleanor Green and just in 2008.
Rebecca: Wow-that is unbelievable!
Karen: The ACVS has a list of past presidents and there have been only three female Presidents in 50 years.
Rebecca: That is crazy too! Yes, I think we have a definitive need for the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative!
Rebecca: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Karen: Just to encourage other veterinarians, especially those in the first 20 years of their career, to consider getting involved in organized veterinary medicine. They will find it rewarding and they can be a catalyst for positive change in our organizations.
I also encourage taking leadership development and training opportunities any chance they can. Developing these skills is invaluable. Most of us didn’t learn or craft these skills in veterinary school and do not always find them in our day-to-day career settings. What you gain from interacting with other veterinarians or in leadership skill seminars will help you be more successful in your personal and professional lives.
Rebecca: Great, we will definitely provide a link for that.
Karen: WVLD will be at the major veterinary meetings too. We will be at Western States and the AVMA. We will be having lectures and networking events.
Rebecca: I really appreciate you spending some time with us so we can learn more about you and all the great things you are doing for veterinary medicine.
Tell us about your experience as a veterinarian – join the conversation below in the comments or on Facebook.