Some Bad News About the Veterinary Profession

So things seem to be changing in the vet biz. A recent article in the NY Times paints a pretty grim picture of the profession, echoed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Vet Information Network and even on the “I Want to be A veterinarian.org website.

From what I gather, the problem is one of simple supply and demand. The supply of vets is high. The demand for veterinary services is dropping. Fewer people own pets and fewer still take them to the vet. Casualties of the down economy.

Please read the NY Times article for the details, it’s an interesting read.

I remember when I graduated veterinary school in 1998, the rallying cry for the profession at the time was: “We are as smart as MDs! Pets are members of the family! Therefore, we should treat them as such and charge accordingly!”

There was a movement to raise veterinary fees so that we could earn the living that we deserved as medical professionals. People will pay because they love their pets.

Problem is that the economy tanked, and frankly, when it came down to having a roof over your head or treating Fluffy’s renal failure, guess what won?

People need a roof over their head, food to eat. Fluffy doesn’t need hospitalization for $500 a day, the family just has to say goodbye.

My neighbor texted me the other day, “my dog is slowing down in his old age, what do I do with him when he dies?” Not “what could be wrong with him, is there anything I can do?” Just, “what do I do when he dies?”

That got me thinking, is veterinary care just another luxury item?

I have to admit, nestled in the edge of affluent West Plano; we haven’t suffered the magnitude of economic downturn that other hospitals (several closed their doors for good around us) have suffered. We are very, very blessed with a fairly affluent clientele that allows us to practice the cutting edge veterinary medicine for which we were trained. For that we are so, so grateful.

What about the less affluent areas?

I think about how much veterinary medicine has progressed in the 23+ years I’ve been involved with it. We have access to dialysis, digital x-rays, MRI/CT, brain surgery, cataract surgery, and kidney transplants. Bone marrow transplants are on the horizon.

“Back in the day,” 20 -30 plus years ago, Fluffy got sick and he got some antibiotics and maybe some steroids. If he got better, fantastic, if not he died or was euthanized. Simple.

Those are the two ends of the veterinary medicine spectrum. My husband says we should offer it up to clients as levels of care: “would you like the 1995 Ford Festiva service plan or the 2013 Lamborghini plan? Wal-Mart or Nordstrom?

We strive to provide Nordsrom care, that’s our practice mission and philosophy, but we have to offer all the options because we want to help our patients any way we can.

But things get complicated because what if the Wal-Mart client changes their mind and suddenly wants Nordstrom care, but it’s too late and the pet dies. They sue us because we didn’t push hard enough for Nordstrom care. What if they chose the Nordstrom plan but they couldn’t really afford it and the pet died anyway. Then they go online or to their friends and bemoan all the superfluous tests and procedures we did to pad the bill and “make our Mercedes payment”.

We present all the options and the client chooses the plan.

But, they aren’t the medical professional, we are.

It’s exhausting.

So I’m not sure what the future holds for us vets. I (and the NY Times article) didn’t even touch on the fact that it looks like we will be losing a big chunk of our pharmacy revenue to the likes of Target, Wal-Mart and such.

Dr. Google isn’t helping bring patients in the door either. People get veterinary advice from breeders, groomers, pet store personnel, trainers, etc as well. From personal experience regarding my human maladies, I’ll take the advice of a properly trained medical professional over the crap I tend to find on line, but that’s just me.

I think the small strip mall single veterinarian practices might just fade away, to be replaced by large, multi-doctor practices and corporate clinics with investors and such.

There will always be demand for our services; I imagine things will work themselves out one way or another, hopefully for the best.

Tomorrow (hopefully): My updated tips for vet-wanabes.

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2 thoughts on “Some Bad News About the Veterinary Profession

  1. “Dr. Google isn’t helping bring patients in the door either. People get veterinary advice from breeders, groomers, pet store personnel, trainers, etc as well”

    I, too, find that frightening. There’s so much bad information online. Unfortunately, readers believe it because they want to. Not to mention, well-meaning writers that post something akin to a miracle. “I gave Fluffy/Fido 3 stalks of grass from the lawn and then I gave Fluffy/Fido 4 jellybeans.. and poof!… the critter was cured of cancer.”

    It’s great that the lay-person wants to be as informed as possible, but in my opinion, any decisions about treatment should have a very heavy weight put on a doctor’s advice.

    As an aside, I hope you suggested that your neighbor take the dog to the vet ASAP.

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