Vets: Fertile field for females



hough it’s mostly women who feed, nurture and make decisions for “man’s best friend,” many of us turn to males when our family pets need veterinary care. Well … we used to, anyway.

There are many professions where you can expect to see more men than women. Of the more than 1 million attorneys in the U.S., about 64 percent are male, according to the American Bar Association. Careers such as doctors and engineers tend to be male-dominated as well.

But veterinary medicine has been changing steadily over the last decade. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, in 2007 there were approximately 85,000 veterinarians in the U.S., and 40,534 were female, while 43,196 were male. But 10 years later, women had taken the lead. With more than 100,000 veterinarians in the country, those in private practice were 58.4 percent female, and vets in public/corporate positions were 55.7 percent women.

Here in Santa Clarita there are many bright, talented female veterinarians. Some get around the valley, making house calls and ranch visits, illustrating how the field has opened up for females.

It’s a case of “local girl makes good” when you’re talking about Rachael Ostrom Sachar and Marlene Anschultz, who each left the Santa Clarita Valley and returned with DVM degrees.    

Dr. Sachar is a veterinarian who treats large animals in and around the SCV. Since graduating from Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009, she’s seen every species imaginable, including horses, donkeys, mules, cows, llamas, alpacas, camels, zebras, deer, pigs, sheep and goats.

“I love my job,” she said. “Every day is different and exciting, my clients and patients are wonderful, my large, diverse caseload keeps me forever learning and growing, and (I’m) never bored.”

Her practice encompasses a large area, “limited only by how far I want to drive,” she said.

It takes two hours to reach some of her clients, and at times her truck’s four-wheel-drive capability is necessary.

“I love the field of veterinary medicine because of its diversity and extensive opportunities,” Sachar said. “We have the ability and training to potentially work on any species of animal in every field of medicine. On any average day I can be called to practice dentistry, gynecology, surgery, orthopedic regenerative medicine, radiology, field surgery, dermatology, ophthalmology, internal medicine, parasitology, pharmacology, geriatric medicine, and many more.”

In 2012, Sachar launched her private ambulatory practice, which she named Twin Oaks Equine Veterinary Services.

“I call it Twin Oaks because my parents’ property only had two oak trees on it when we bought the place in Sand Canyon back in 1978,” she said. “It was a home-grown business that I started in my dad’s garage office while temporarily living in their attic after my divorce. I had already been working as an associate veterinarian for another practice for several years, and prior to that I had worked for a surgeon in equine sports performance medicine and surgery. I was confident as a veterinarian, but had little to no knowledge about running and operating a business.”

That’s where Sachar’s parents and her sister, Skye, were a tremendous resource. Initially, her mother, Susan Ostrom, would answer phones, set up appointments, keep track of inventory and order medicines and supplies, while her father, Dennis, would drive and assist Sachar in the field.

“The business took on a life of its own almost immediately and I’ve been incredibly fortunate and blessed with great success.”   

Sachar now has her own home and hired staff for her practice.

“But I will never forget, and I am forever grateful to how my family came together to support me during the start of my veterinary practice when it was most critical and vulnerable,” she said. “The adjustment of business ownership and practice management has been a huge learning curve and has taken huge sacrifices, but it has offered me enormous freedom, personal growth, financial success, fulfillment and unparalleled opportunities and adventures. I don’t regret a moment of my journey and I don’t plan to ever quit.”

Sachar became officially certified in veterinary acupuncture through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society in 2011 and has been incorporating the eastern philosophies of approaching and treating medical conditions with her traditional western medicine roots for a “synergistic effect in a complementary fashion,” she said. “I find I approach each case with a broader stroke and have more tools in my tool box to treat both internal and external medical maladies.”

In addition to regular clientele and movie/commercial sets with animals, she also works on animal welfare cases, rescue missions, and international transport.

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Dr. Marlene Anschultz has been working in veterinary medicine for about 25 years, in Santa Clarita since 2010. She grew up in the SCV, a graduate of Saugus High School, and left the area for a decade and a half to get an education. She and her husband, Jorge, settled here to raise their children. Jorge’s work as a child psychologist makes it possible for Marlene to have her “house call” practice, A-Z Veterinary Services.

“He holds down the fort and we work together very strategically for a finely tuned schedule,” Marlene said, adding that it involves late-night emergencies, long days, and other challenges. They live with dogs, cats, a bearded dragon, a parrot, and an 80-pound tortoise, and they own two horses.

When it comes to Anschultz’s business, she believes in getting back to basics.

“I prefer mobile practice because it is getting back to the reason I became a vet – to help the animals,” she said. “Animals behave better in their home. They show you true problems going on, and most of all, there is not the stress of traveling, car rides and unknown people poking at you.”

The feedback Anschultz gets from her clients is positive.

“Owners especially love it since they don’t have to wrestle their pet into a carrier, or force it into the car,” she said. “Plus, many of my clients feel that I become part of the family coming into their home.”

If a pet requires surgery or a hospital stay, Anschultz subcontracts with several animal hospitals. She treats domestics such as dogs and cats, and exotics, including reptiles, birds and primates, and some small farm animals.

For exotics, Anschultz says that a mobile service has advantages.

“Seeing the actual environment in which they live is crucial in fixing most of the issues they develop,” she said, “especially with the exotics, but with even dogs and cats sometimes.”

Females in the Field

Both local veterinarians see the field of vet science trending female. Sachar cites the fact that fewer men than women are applying to veterinary school.

“I believe this is the case because the cost of school has gone up and the expected earning potential of an average veterinarian has gone down,” she said. “This is likely because big corporations are monopolizing small animal veterinary hospitals and fewer veterinarians are pursuing personal small business ownership.”

She describes the scope for a female DVM as worldwide.

“The veterinary field and community is extraordinary and offers endless opportunities to work and specialize in so many areas – public health, wildlife medicine, research and education, emergency/critical care medicine, production/food animal medicine, shelter medicine, surgery, and many more,” she said.

Anschultz believes the impact on her profession was borne out of a series of innate strengths possessed by women.

“I believe that veterinary medicine has become female-dominated due to the natural nurturing component of women, and this field requires a flexible, multitasking, many-hat-wearing individual … which is synonymous with a mom,” she said. “The impact of many more women in the field is that the 9-to-5 job is becoming obsolete. I know colleagues who work only three days a week, 10- to 12-hour days, while others work split days, and there are some who only work on a spouse’s days off. I think women predominating in this field means more compassion given to the patients, and a better connection with the clients since, in the majority of households, the female is the one taking the pet to the vet.”

Anschultz’s ambulatory practice is a nod to simplicity.

“A house call practice is getting back to the roots of veterinary medicine, fixing the animal … but to do that you must be able to get through to the client,” she said. “What better way than to be invited into their home and shown their family, and any issues that have occurred. It is personal, compassionate and gentler for the patients.”

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal.

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