Veterinary medicine falls right in the middle of the Venn diagram conversion of emotions and money. Pets are increasingly considered part of the family, and we the parents of our furbabies. But medicine costs money, and unlike with our human family members, most pets are not covered by insurance. This can make for a pretty bad situation when a pet gets sick and clients can’t afford their treatment.
As vets, we’ve all been called “money-grubbing”, or accused of only being in it for the money. We’ve been guilted and manipulated by people who tell us that “if we really loved animals we’d help” when they can’t afford treatment. And we do love animals, and we really do want to help, so we fall for it; or at the very least, we internalize it.
Taking It Personally
No one smart enough to get into vet school was stupid enough to go into this field for the money. We rack up insane amounts of debt to work long, stress-filled hours barely getting by. So when people accuse us of only caring about dollars and cents, we feel the attack at the core of who we are.
We immediately go on the defensive. We wave our 6 digit student loan debt, 10 year old cars, lack of retirement funds and barely existent savings accounts as badges of honor. “Look how much I don’t care about money,” we say. “I haven’t been on vacation since 2009.”
We feel guilty about charging for what we do, so we don’t. We don’t charge for an ear cleaning, or re-bandaging that paw even though it came off because Milo chewed it off and not because we didn’t put it on right. We only charge for extracting 4 teeth instead of 10 because some of them “practically just fell out of the mouth.” It seems harmless enough. We just want to help a pet out. And what does it cost us really? The bandage material is pennies, so it’s really just our time, right?
I have yet to meet a fellow vet who doesn’t experience this kind of money guilt, myself included. We feel like we’re taking something away from our clients instead of giving them something valuable. Our time and knowledge and services are valuable. WE are valuable. And we are under- appreciating ourselves every day. It’s not harmless. We are harming ourselves and our profession.
If we don’t value what we do, why should our clients? Why should they come and see us for their pet’s annual when they can go to a vaccine clinic down the road for half the price? Why should they call us when their pet is sick instead of just turning to Dr. Google?
We need to stop! But how?
How Much You Have, How Much You Give
We need to change the narrative we give to ourselves and to our clients. Stop reinforcing the idea of how little we make. When a client, or even a friend or relative comments or complains about how much vets charge, don’t make it about how little you have, make it about how much you give. Talk about the value of the services you provide. It’s an affirmation. The more you talk about your worth, the more you will believe it.
Stop feeling guilty for charging money and for having money. Money pays our bills. It gives us the freedom to take care of ourselves and our futures. We work hard and we deserve to have financial security. Educate yourself about personal finance. Take a good hard look at your student loan debt, your amortization schedule, your interest rates and how much it will cost you to continue to only make the minimum payments. Learn about Roth IRAs and 401ks and how to invest your money and start putting aside enough to make sure you can retire one day without winning the lottery. The more you learn about how to save, the more you will accept that you need to make a decent living.
And lastly, take a look at just how much you give. Add up all those “little” charges you leave off clients bills every day. Record every free recheck, wound cleaning, fluorescein stain… I’m not saying you need to start nickel-and-diming every client, but just be aware. Seeing the numbers, if only for yourself, will help remind you of your generosity as well as showing you just how much that generosity is affecting your own bottom line, so that you can be in control.
It’s okay to be generous with your time and skills, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, not because you feel guilty. And make sure you’re taking care of yourself first. You’ve earned it.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
About the Author
Dr. Lauren Smith graduated in 2008 from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and completed her clinical year at Cornell University. Her professional interests include internal medicine, preventative medicine and client education. Dr. Smith lives and practices on Long Island with her cat, Charlie and dog, Frankie and loves to read write and run in her free time. You can check out more of her writing at laurensmithdvm.com