Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Internet Myth #20: Veterinarians are just “in it for the money”

Ahhh… the ole “you’re only in it for the money” statement. I think Veterinary Medicine is rather unique in this regard because I’m not sure I know of another business where a client or patron would say this to the goods or service provider. Can you imagine blurting this out at the supermarket when buying your peaches? Or, how about to your auto mechanic? Maybe to your dentist? I don’t think so. Yet, I don’t think there is a Veterinarian alive who hasn’t heard that phrase in one form or another. I’m pretty sure even the beloved James Herriot has heard that one. Perhaps its used because we are such compassionate people and by trying to lay a guilt trip on the Veterinarian the client thinks they’re going to get a deal?

Typically, the first time we hear it is from a pet owner who claims to have no money but owns 6 dogs and 3 cats. One of their pets is in serious trouble and off they go to the nearest Veterinary Clinic expecting free or deeply discounted services. What they don’t realize is that the vast majority of Veterinary Hospitals are owned privately meaning they don’t receive any donations and any free services provided come directly out of the owner’s pocket. When this happens 3 or 4 times a week it can have serious repercussions for the overall health of the practice. Running a Veterinary Hospital is a business and like any business the bills must be paid. How heartless to expect to be paid for providing services!

The Veterinarians that I know (and I know quite a few) are some of the most compassionate people on the planet. If you ask them how or when they first became interested in working with pets, typically the answer will be “for as long as I can remember… ever since I was a little child”. My own story is no different. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love, respect and want to help animals in some way. Some of the earliest pictures of me show me holding a goose or a kitten or whatever animal was within reach. Initially I thought I might become a Zoologist but with time it became clear that Veterinary Medicine was my calling. I can honestly say that when I was researching in high school how to become a Veterinarian I never once considered how little or how much I was going to make. In fact, it never crossed my mind. I didn’t really care. Call it being young and naïve.

Unfortunately, times have changed for the newer generation of Veterinarians. No longer can they afford to be so carefree as I once was about what they are getting into. A recent article in the New York Times summarizes it pretty well… see this link… http://www.nytimes.com/…/high-debt-and-falling-demand-trap-….

From that article and several other sources some important points are raised which might be surprising to you:

1) The average U.S. Veterinary Student is now graduating with between $250,000 - $350,000 of debt. Less for Canadian students but still out of control.

2) While the debt has skyrocketed the average starting salary for a newly minted Veterinarian has dropped 13% in the past 10 years to an inflation adjusted $46,000/year.

3) The average salary for a Veterinarian (regardless of years of experience) is around $80,000.

Can you imagine going to University for 8 years, racking up a debt of $300,000 and then graduating and being paid $50,000/year? Some of these poor students will never pay off their debt. No other profession with the level of education that we have makes so little money. It is estimated that the debt to income level ratio is about twice that of a medical doctor. And despite having the equivalent or more education, the average Veterinarian makes about 1/3 to 1/2 that of a dentist.

Veterinarians are highly intelligent people with extensive amounts of education. I can assure you that if a Veterinarian was concerned with making a lot of money they would be smart enough to realize they shouldn’t have decided to become a Veterinarian in the first place. This is starting to happen. Recently, application numbers for Veterinary School have been plummeting and many male students with high credentials who ARE interested in making a lot of money are looking elsewhere.

In summary, I can assure you that the vast majority of Veterinarians are in it for THE RIGHT REASONS. To make the statement that Veterinarians are “only in it for the money” shows a complete lack of understanding about the monetary rewards with being a Veterinarian. The entire profession is poorly paid relative to our education. However, being a Veterinarian rewards us handsomely in ways other than money and I certainly would not want to do anything else.

The cost of veterinarian school has far outpaced the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, there is a boom in supply (that is, vets), and a decline in demand for services.

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