Vets are notorious under-chargers. According to one source, veterinarians give away the equivalent of $60,000 in services every year. EVERY. YEAR. Apparently, medical math and financial math are two very disparate mathematical species, and we are much better at calculating complicated CRIs than we are at adding up money dollars.

We often hear the call from financial gurus and veterinary experts to “charge appropriately” for our services. After all, how much we charge tells people what we think we are worth. If we routinely give away or undercharge for our time and skills, why should clients value our expertise?

This kind of thinking leads to statements that are variations on the following themes:

“I set my fees higher than my competition’s so clients know that I practice high-quality medicine.”

“The vet on the other side of town charges way less than I do, so I know she’s cutting corners.”

“That corporate chain is undercutting me on prices, and I can’t compete. They’re trying to run me out of business!”

But are these statements necessarily true? Or are they just describing different business models? If they are, then maybe, just maybe, there are lots of different, but equally valid, ways to run a vet practice.

For instance, maybe you are the vet who spends 30 minutes to an hour with every patient, loves talking to clients and answering every question in amazing detail, but routinely gets chewed out for running behind schedule. Why not open your own concierge-style practice where you charge a premium for your time? Plenty of clients would love to know they have your undivided attention for 60 minutes and would be happy to pay for that service. If you charge appropriately and keep your overhead reasonable, you could have a successful practice while only seeing 6 to 8 patients a day.

Or maybe you’re more suited to a fast-paced atmosphere where you are seeing 25 to 30 cases a day. You don’t really want to be tied to one exam room and one client for an entire hour when you could be working up cases, performing surgery, unblocking cats or meeting any other number of challenges instead. In that case, market yourself as an urgent-care type practice and get that fun, varied caseload that keeps you engaged and happy. Again, by charging appropriately and keeping costs in check, you could have a very healthy practice.

Another niche for vet practices is providing low-cost health care. This area of veterinary service seems to be the most controversial right now. These vets are often denigrated by their colleagues for “undercutting prices” and “devaluing all vets’ expertise.” They are seen as hurting the profession and treated as the enemy by other veterinarians.

But it’s really just another business model. There are many, many pet owners out there who love their pets and provide for them, but who find a $60 exam to be a financial burden. They may have a pet with an illness and only have $100 to spend total. If 60% of that goes away as soon as they walk in the door, that exam cost limits those owners’ options for treating the pet.

So some vets may make a choice to provide lower-cost exams and see more patients to make up for it, and they target that demographic.

And guess what? THAT’S OK. As with the other two examples, if the vets serving that niche can keep their costs down and provide good care to the patient and service to the client, it’s a perfectly valid business model. It is different from the low-volume, high-touch version of general practice.

Not better. Not worse. Just different.

One of the things that is so cool about this profession is that there are so many, many ways to be a veterinarian. Finding your way in this job and making it rewarding to you is what’s important.

If you want to charge $80, or hell, even $150 for an exam, because you believe in your skills and you want to see a limited number of patients every day – do it. If you like fast-paced medicine and seeing more patients, charge less and see more.

As long as you are satisfied with your work, you can take care of your staff, and keep the lights on, it’s your business.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.


Dr. Angela Hofmann is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in San Diego. She enjoys Basset Hounds and trying to suck a little bit less every day.