Want to fix what’s wrong with veterinary medicine? First, remember what’s right.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There are a lot of very smart people out there who think veterinary medicine is in trouble.

I was speaking to a successful veterinarian a few months ago, and he decided to share with me all the reasons he thinks our profession is doomed. He touched on enormous educational debt, people bringing pets to the veterinarian less often and a potential scarcity of jobs in the coming years. He talked about the economy, difficulties facing small businesses today and the rising costs of healthcare for both people and pets.

He finished by pointing out that I, as a fairly young veterinarian, was going to be maximally affected by the rapid downward trajectory of the veterinary field. I think his exact words were, “You’re totally screwed.” How very helpful. I was so taken aback by this stream of negativity that at the time I could barely muster an articulate response. While I don’t think anyone has answers to all the issues he brought up, here’s what I wish I had said in reply: “My fellow veterinarians and veterinary technicians do have lots of challenges ahead. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how to navigate the changing world around us, but I have no interest in abandoning ship. If we want to save the veterinary profession, then the first thing we have to do is remember why it’s worth saving. I still love veterinary medicine, and this field has a lot going for it.”

Here’s what’s right.

The people

The people working at the front desks in veterinary clinics could do a very similar but easier and less stressful version of their job for a thousand other types of businesses. They could be in dental or human healthcare offices, maybe even making better money, but they’re here because they want to make a difference in the lives of pets.

Plus, few people out there work as hard as our technicians. And theirs is a dirty job. They get spattered with vomit, rejected cat medications, anal gland secretions and all other manner of bodily waste. They wear x-ray exposure meters to measure how much radiation they’re exposed to, they know how to assist in surgery, they understand the side effects of common medications, and they’re able to gently but firmly restrain pets while minimizing pain and fear.

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Originally Published: DVM360 – June 2013

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