I have some news that you might find shocking. So brace yourselves for just a moment. Are you ready? Are you sitting down? Here goes. Veterinarians and their staff are human beings.
“What?” you say, “Of course. I knew that.” And I’m sure you did. But that particular truth has been lost on a lot of people, and I have the proof from people in the veterinary profession all across the country, including right here in Minnesota.
Please allow me to explain. If you are a pet owner, you likely have a close and personal relationship with your pet. It’s entirely possible, nay, probable, that your pet is treated similar to any other member of your family. You provide a high level of care, love, and attention, and your pet returns it—maybe better than other family members who shall remain nameless. Now then, imagine that the affection you hold for your dear pet was akin to what you felt for most, if not all, animals. Consider for a moment that you felt compelled to care for animals (even those that did not belong to you) from a very young age and that your calling was to be a veterinarian or a veterinary technician. (I’ve taken the liberty of using the word “calling” because I believe it applies. Who would take on the school debt, the often long hours, the physical rigor of the job for the comparatively low salary were one not passionately driven to do so?)
Now that you have the benefit of perspective, we can return to the crux of the matter. Knowing all that I have just shared with you about the driving motivation for virtually every veterinarian and veterinary technician I have ever met (and I’ve met a few in thirty years within the profession,) you might be surprised to read that many people believe that veterinarians are “in it for the money.” And the truly hateful thing is that some of those people, having received care that they consider to be sub-par, or having paid what they consider to be too much to a veterinary clinic, often take their campaign of disgruntlement to the internet.
I can hear your eyes rolling. “Who doesn’t complain on the internet?” you screech. Please don’t yell at me. You’re absolutely correct; the continual degradation of civility on the internet comes as no surprise to anyone. However, the attacks I’ve seen upon veterinarians who work at our clinic and elsewhere seem to fall into two camps—which also reveal that the authors of the attacks believe two essential truths: 1) veterinarians are not human. And 2) veterinary professionals do not deserve to make a living wage.
Veterinarians are not human
I facilitate the pet loss support group at our clinic, and often, clients share with me their experiences with their pet at the family vet practice. “Maybe if the doctor hadn’t misdiagnosed the condition,” and “If I had known what was going on sooner, perhaps I could have done something” are common refrains. I gently remind clients that veterinarians are providing the best information they can with the diagnostic picture that is before them, and that, in the end, veterinarians are not all-knowing—they’re just human. When I make this statement, I usually get a blank, puzzled expression from the client as though such a thing had never occurred to them.
Do vets make mistakes? Unfortunately, veterinarians today are scared of being burned by our litigious society, so, under the recommendations of their liability insurance, they can’t admit it when they do. But of course they make mistakes. On top of that veterinarians have varying levels of education, life experiences, and communication skills that all affect your interactions (and your pet’s interactions) with them—as is also true of medical doctors, mechanics, journalists, and even politicians.
I would urge you to consider that veterinarians are human the next time you write an online review of a veterinary practice. I may be preaching to the choir, but spewing hateful language about how a veterinarian doesn’t love animals is not just mean, it’s ridiculous. Again, it’s very unlikely that anyone who invested the dedication requisite for a veterinary career actually dislikes animals. So unlikely, in fact, that I can’t say I’ve met one veterinarian who meets that qualification in thirty years of working in veterinary hospitals. You might also want to take into account that many veterinarians are small business owners just trying to make a living like anyone else, which brings me to the second fallacy…
Veterinary professionals do not deserve to make a living wage
Is veterinary care costly? It can be. Does the quality of veterinary care vary widely? Yes. Any veterinarian will tell you that. But the same is true of any service-based industry. Staying in a hotel can be costly. Quality varies. Spas can be costly. Quality varies. “But this is my FAMILY MEMBER!” I hear you screech. (Again, please don’t yell at me.) “It’s different!” It is different. It’s different from a hotel in that you expect even more from your veterinarian than you do of the desk clerk at the Hilton. So why are people often not willing to spend what they would spend on a weekend stay in downtown Minneapolis for their pet’s annual wellness care? Crazy, amirite?
Here is just a fraction of a few reviews our clinic has received in the past; I’d ask you to forgive the language and the errors, but it’s not mine to ask:
“The Vet tech got their degrees online. They couldn’t do sh*t for the amount I was paying them! They had the f*cken nerve to suggest…that he was ‘suffering.’”
“You can’t treat a dog like a patient, you $$ hungry! Will not refer this place to anyone.”
“If you love your pet, do not go to this place! They will milk for every single penny you are willing to spend as if money grow on tree!”
There is so much that goes into the cost of your pet’s veterinary care: the cost of the facility, the cost of the veterinarians’ and technicians’ educations, and the cost of the medical equipment. “Why should I pay all of that?” you ask. You do for your own healthcare—or rather, your insurance does.
It’s my personal opinion that the main reason pet owners think veterinary care is so expensive is because they never see the actual cost of their own healthcare due to insurance. This report entitled The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States from Truven Health Analytics states that the average cost of a cesarean section for humans as of January 2013 was over $50,000. At my hospital, your English Bulldog can get what is essentially the same surgery, with the same level of requisite expertise, pain management, surgical suite, materials, and 24/7 post-surgical hospitalization, for the low, low price of $2500. And you’ll wind up with three or four babies instead of one or two.
Clearly, my comparison is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but you get my drift. We don’t know what good health care costs, so how can we even begin to judge what is appropriate and what’s not?
As far as rich veterinarians go, I’ve met only a couple more veterinarians that are millionaires than I have that hate pets. So, maybe two. Veterinarians graduate with, in many cases, almost as much student debt as M.D.s, (most recent student survey from the American Veterinary Medical Association Student Survey states $135,000) despite earning half as much in wages. The bottom line is that no veterinarian or veterinary technician ever went into the industry with the express goal of becoming rich. Saying that a veterinarian is money hungry is as ludicrous as saying a pediatric oncologist is money hungry. The field just doesn’t attract greedy, soulless individuals.
In conclusion, veterinarians are human and they do deserve to enjoy the fruits of their hard labor. In the event that you should meet one who, by your estimation, is less than deserving of your trust, I have two simple words: move on. Unless something truly dangerous has transpired, (in which case, you really should contact your state’s board of veterinary medicine,) don’t take your ire to the unwashed masses of the internet. Just find yourself a new vet that you and your pet really like. Easy peasy.
[A word on selecting a vet: I’m not suggesting that you should throw the baby out with the bathwater and automatically select the highest-priced vet in your neighborhood to provide care for your beloved Fluffy. Do take your time and research, as you should with any other service-based relationship. Get recommendations from friends you trust who also believe that their pets are family. Then show up at the clinic and see the facility. Meet the staff. Remember, this is your family member we’re talking about, so do the homework to find the doctor that meets his, and your, needs.]