The Golden Age of Veterinary Medicine
I spent this past weekend at one of those boring conferences you have to go to every so often to make sure your license doesn’t get revoked for some odd regulatory issue or another. It was torture. I sat there like a good girl, knitting away while trying to look profoundly interested in the subject matter while visions of Disney World (just outside this Orlando conference hall) danced in my head.
At lunchtime, I happened to meet a physician, also there for some regulatory sort of conference. Immediately upon hearing I was a vet, he launched into a career-oriented tale of woe over his greasy plate of hotel conference food. I had no choice but to sit, again, and listen to someone spew on a subject that barely interested me. In this case, human health insurance.
The subject is a fave among human docs but one that unfailingly starts to sound like a broken record. The moral of their story? Never, ever, under any circumstances allow the health insurance industry into your practice. You will lose far more than you will ever gain.
They say that if we allow pet health insurance companies to start paying for pet care they will eventually start to dictate the terms of that care. Indisputably, that’s what has happened in human medicine. And so, naturally, we are right to be on the alert for any signs of that crisis. IMHO we’re no where near that catastrophic scenario—we’re still on the teeny cusp of that bell curve that leads up to excellence in vet medicine (eventually) before the insurance industry comes crashing down on us on the other side.
My boyfriend and I are avid watchers of the veterinary industry. We have the luck (or curse) of bringing multiple perspectives to the table: He spent several years in veterinary academia and now works as a surgeon in a specialty practice. I`ve worked emergency and general practice and have one of those fancy MBAs under my belt. Between the two of us we can argue for hours on veterinary issues and come up with about ten opinions apiece for any given subject—we actually do this. (BTW, stay tuned for our podcast, Vet PillowTalk, where the bravest among you can tune in to our seriously silly banter on all things pet and vet related.)
Throughout our (often heated) discussions, Marc and I always agree on one thing. We’re lucky enough to be living through the Golden Age of vet medicine. And we’re only in the infancy of what we hope is a long upward trend in quality healthcare for pets. The trend surely seems inevitable: as pets increase in their cultural attachment to us humans, medical advances on their behalf will correspondingly follow suit.
Yet while still so many pets suffer the indignity of neglect, abandonment and/or outright abuse, it’s hard for most people to see the writing on the wall. As a vet, however, perhaps that perspective looks a little clearer—and brighter. It’s not just that we can calculate, in dollars, how much more our clients spend compared to their spending of ten years past. While that has, of course changed, more drastic is the shift in how much more our clients expect and demand from us.
But don’t assume that small animal vets are making more money. To be sure, someone is. But that someone is more likely to include the drug companies, the mere spore of a pet health insurance industry, supply distributors, and our more sophisticated co-worker colleagues (vet techs). Despite the squeeze, most vets are happier—at least those of us who value a greater workplace challenge and an expanded role to play in society at large.
And it’s not just about pets; our profession is growing horizontally as well as vertically. Who do you assume is on the front lines of the avian flu epidemic? HIV? Gene therapy? It’s us. My genetics and reproduction professor at the University of Pennsylvania vet school? He’s a Nobel laureate. No longer are we worrying over how many chocolates and yellows we can get out of two particular blacks. It’s a game of bigger stakes now.
Small animal vets can stress out about how little we make relative to our expanded hours and astronomical student loans. And we are justified in doing so but that gives us no license to ignore the positive changes to our work life we’ve perhaps begun to take for granted.
So what about pet health insurance? Will it really wreak havoc on our industry or will it bring state-of-the-art care to our work in record time? I don’t know the answer—perhaps I should put my MBA to work and perform a scenario analysis for academic publication. For the moment, however, from my vantage point as a clinician slogging away in the trenches, I see it merely a symptom of the tremendous gains we’ve made in the pet healthcare arena—thanks to you, the committed pet advocates and those simply demanding better care for your whole families.