, , , ,

Veterinarians aren’t in the profession for the money 
While veterinary medicine offers many advanced diagnostics and treatments, those benefits do carry a cost that can surprise some owners. But veterinarians aren’t in it for the money. According to the AVMA and data from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, a typical veterinary school graduate faces over $140,000 in student loan debt on an annual starting salary of $45,575. “It’s a touchy topic,” said veterinarian Sandy Helpling, “because as veterinarians we are put in the category that we love animals so much that we should do everything for free, which I would love to do. But unfortunately, we’re a business, and we have to be able to afford the business.”

And in other news, I believe the late Joan Rivers left $1.5 MILLION in her will to provide for the care of her dogs.

The economics of animals and animal care may be as interesting and diverse of a topic as there is to cover. I began my college career in the Texas A&M College of Engineering and worked three summers and several holidays for an oil and gas company as a student engineer. I really enjoyed taking a plant or a pipeline and using my education to optimize the unit’s performance, often with just a few simple changes, which would result in win win win situations. The company, and therefore the stockholders, made a profit (and I justified my salary), field personnel had jobs and meaningful work, and their safety and well-being were ALWAYS maintained or improved, land owners got royalties for right of ways, and consumers continued to get a product at a price dictated by a supply and demand marketplace. If the project was economically feasible, it proceeded, if not, back to the drawing board.

Food animal veterinary medicine appeared to be the same to me and was one of the attractive parts of this discipline. Large food animal production enterprises calculate their input costs and use price predictions to know the value veterinary input can add to their productivity, and the limit they can spend on a single animal unit to maintain profitability. Veterinarians are used as consultants and diagnostician and the strategies and treatments instituted by technicians and cowboys who don’t have near the time or money invested in education and thus can be paid on a lower pay scale. On the other hand, the hobby farmer or remaining small-sized producer often only uses a vet for emergency or sick animal care and is faced with a one time expense which these days may exceed the value of the animal. So the cycle begins. Either the producer takes his lumps until the time and effort and expense of the operation is no longer economically feasible, and the vet loses an income source, or the vet attempts to deliver services at prices beneficial to the producer and eventually realizes the efforts and expense of his operation is no longer economically feasible and turns to another species or changes occupations altogether in order to make ends meet economically. This is likely the reason we are facing a rural veterinary shortage in many areas of the country, and now government incentives are being offered for new graduates to go into these “underserved” areas for the first few years of their careers to care for these owners and animals. So, there is one of the conundrums. Should the government be expending resources to entice veterinarians into areas where demand for services still exist, but not to the extent to justify entrepreneurial efforts, or should the government leave well enough alone and let market demand dictate veterinary supply, OR should we be educating the small producer as to how early and often veterinary intervention can help him in operating a profitable and productive enterprise? I believe the latter to be the solution and we in the veterinary profession, especially in the realms of organized veterinary medicine, need to be emphasizing the VALUE veterinary service can add to animal enterprises. One of my favorite sayings, ” When you take more interest in your level of contribution than your level of compensation, the level of compensation tends to take care of itself” is so applicable in this, and many. many other similar situations.

Then comes the issue of companion animals. Here is an interesting excerpt from Entrepreneur Online :

Pets at work: A business strategy that pays off 
Studies have shown that pets at work benefit the bottom line, and companies are responding with 2 in 10 inviting furry friends to the office. People at work who have exposure to pets tend to be less stressed and more trusting of each other and have deeper team bonds. Such benefits can mean better productivity and lower costs. Pet-friendly businesses should be sure to set behavior parameters, provide treats, space and time for dealing with waste and have a pet-free area for those allergic to or uncomfortable around pets. Entrepreneur online (10/2)

So what is the value attached to a companion? What an individualized answer! I’m sure there are many who would love to have the means of Joan Rivers to set aside and expend millions of dollars on their pets. How much of a motivating force do you think being able to provide for her animals was to her as she continued to work into her eighties? I would think a huge priority, and I think that is what it all gets down to. We each have our own values and priorities, an unalienable right granted to each of us. What I believe, what I am willing to spend, and what I choose to charge for my services are my choices, as are yours. Many businesses proudly announce they put people (and in the case of veterinary businesses, pets) before profits, but without profitability, the business, and more importantly the “WHY” of that business will fail and be lost in a free market society. Banks, insurance companies, suppliers and even employees don’t grant passage to the most caring and well intended veterinarian or animal caregiver who can’t pay his bills, and eventually, the talents, passion, philosophy, and productivity of the individual is lost, even if he chooses to pursue a job in the same area of practice (or any other business), simply because the individuality expressed in each business is so unique. I find it ironic how some of the most iconic businesses in the world, Apple, Starbucks, Walmart, are enormously profitable, move and hoard billions of dollars overseas, and are revered and rarely is their product pricing questioned or challenged, yet vets and animal caregivers face economic challenges often brought about by the person playing on his iPad while drinking a Starbucks who can’t pay his bill because he just spent $200 more at Walmart on stuff he bought after just going in to get some shaving cream! Ahhh… priorities and values. Thanks for stopping by!