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The field of veterinary medicine has changed drastically in recent decades. Costs of education and practicing have skyrocketed, while prices for services have remained nearly unchanged. We are expected to practice at the same quality of medicine as our MD counterparts, but to charge only a very small portion of what human medicine charges. Our drug costs are the same. Our equipment costs are the same. Our education costs are the same. Yet, understandably, we can not charge the same. Still, we, as veterinarians are belittled and berated almost daily with people who insist we are “in it for the money”. I can assure you, we are not.
I knew, at the time of applying for veterinary school (already in a boat-load of school debt from undergrad), that I would never get “rich” in this field. I knew I’d be in immeasurable debt, probably for the rest of my life. Most of us understand this when we apply. Yet, we apply anyway. We give up the next several years of our lives to late nights studying, pouring over books and committing massive amounts of complex information to memory. Why? Our reasons for becoming a veterinarian may differ, but I can promise you that none of us got into it for the money.
The point of this article is not to complain about our clients, debt load or career choice. We knew (for the most part) what we were getting ourselves into. The point here is to share some of the inner workings of this field that we love, including the unspoken promises we make as veterinarians to our clients and patients every day.
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1. I promise, we care. We care more than you know. Difficult cases keep us up at night. We fall asleep thinking about them, toss and turn all night, fretting about how we handled something, did we miss something, should we have done anything differently? They are constantly on our minds, an obvious distraction from our daily lives. Yes, I promise, we care.
2. I promise, we do try to treat your pets like they are our own. It takes a great deal of patience on our part to remain calm and gentle when a fractious cat is trying to claw our eyes out during a nail trim, or a dog is trying to bite at our faces during a blood draw. We very much appreciate a warning if your pet has bitten or scratched veterinary staff in the past. It does not mean we will be rough with your pet, it means we know that we need to be extra cautious and keep not only our own safety, but the safety of your pet in mind as we examine and treat your precious cargo. Our end goal is to have our staff, clients and patients as happy and healthy as possible at the end of your visit. We wouldn’t be in this field if we didn’t have an inherent love of animals.
3. I promise, we have your pet’s best interest at heart. If your pets could speak, our jobs would be so much easier. They could tell us where it hurts, what symptoms they’ve been experiencing, and if a certain therapy is working. In a way, they can speak, but (cliché as it may sound), only to those who know how to listen. We’ve been extensively trained to read the body language and very subtle cues your pet may be giving during an exam. As we examine your pet and seem to be chatting with you, we are very aware of what your pet is “saying”. We are your pets’ voice. If we recommend a certain diagnostic test, it’s not the “bottom line” we’re thinking of, it’s your pet. It’s our duty to present you, the client, with the diagnostics and treatment options available to you and your pet. It’s your responsibility to take the education we provide and make an informed choice based on your budget and feelings of what is best for your pet.
4. I promise, your time is important to us. Sometimes, we run over in a room that is scheduled before you because an annual examination of an animal reveals a suspicious lump, and we end up having a very serious discussion with an incredibly worried family. Sometimes, we have emergencies that walk in and need triage before we can address more stable (albeit scheduled) patients. Sometimes we’re helping a family say goodbye to their pet and they need more time than expected. I promise, it’s not because we don’t think your time is valuable. We know it is.
5. I promise, we’ll try to find a plan that works for you and your pet. We are all very aware of budgetary constraints, and it’s very helpful if you clue us in to these restraints at the beginning of the conversation, rather than after a service has been provided. I can’t even count the number of clients that come in, listen to our plan, say “do whatever you have to”, then have no money to pay after we’ve saved their pet’s life. You have these lovely folks to thank when we ask for a certain percentage of the estimate up front, before services are provided.
6. I promise, if we don’t know what’s wrong with your pet or how to fix it, we’ll offer to send you to someone that might. Part of our responsibility as doctors is to know our own limitations, and offer referral to a designated specialist if we feel it is necessary. We also respect your decision to seek a second opinion. Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to review a problem and find a reasonable solution.
7. I promise, we take it personally. Each negative review, every case we see that doesn’t turn out the way we hoped, every negative comment from clients. They all cut deep, and leave a lasting impression. Please, just take some time and think about the effects of what you say before the words leave your mouth (or keyboard). Of course, this should apply to all aspects of your life, not just veterinary medicine.
8. I promise, we’re not in it for the money. I know, we’ve already covered this one. But, it’s really important, and really true. Just try to keep this one in mind when we are explaining the different options available to you and your pet. If we offer you a test or a service, it’s not because we’re trying to “upsell” you. It’s because we feel, in our medical opinion, that the test or treatment will be helpful to your pet. It’s our job to explain the benefits and risks of each medical decision. It’s your job to use the information provided, and make the final decision for your pet.
We really are here to help you. We will work with you (within reason) to find a plan within your budget to help you and your pet. We care immensely about the well-being of our patients, and will do our very best to provide the highest quality of medicine available to us. My sincere hope is that this article helps bridge the communication gap between pet owners and veterinary staff. Help us help you. I promise, it will be worth it.