Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How to Face the State of My Profession?

Ask any vet why they spent the decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars to become a vet and most of them will say, "I wanted a job helping animals."

Ask us a decade or two later what we love and I am not sure how many of us would still say the same thing. How sad is that? All of the hopes, aspirations, and dreams were sucked out of us. Nothing seems sadder to me than the willing surrender of your purpose. The pressures of life, making a living, paying your bills, and people....., it's the people who will kill you.

I was at lunch today with two very good veterinary friends talking about how much veterinary medicine has changed. How it is evolving under the pressures of online pharmacies, big box stores now carrying flea and tick preventatives, and to make the picture seem even bleaker, we saw a flyer from our local feed store who is now offering low cost vaccines. 

To all of us it was just another instance of the writing being on the wall that is becoming larger, more indelible, and more looming. We are feeling the pressure from all sides and we are struggling to keep our chins up. How do we challenge Wal-Mart for affordable pet products when they are able to sell the same goods at a price we can't even buy them for? How do we keep a pharmacy in the clinic when Rite Aid offers antibiotics for $4.00, or even for free? And now the core of our existence, those yearly shots, are now available on a drive through basis like you and I get our flu shot in the check out line at CVS?

The answer? Well, the state of veterinary medicine is following in the foot steps of human medicine. 

Ask me if I believe this? Yes, I do. Veterinary medicine has always followed in human medicines footsteps. How does this affect all of us? Well, pets have better care, more options for care, and have moved from the great outdoors to the bed. Insurance is available for two and four legged creatures alike now. It has made health care affordable for many who otherwise wouldn't have access to expensive life saving and life changing procedures. With the advent of insurance, and our elevation of pets to human status the doors of opportunity has opened. We vets are as much to blame as anyone else. Our love for pets and our clients love for their pets has led to a multi-billion dollar industry. Where there are consumers there are providers. The marketplace is changing and the opportunities are widening. The days of James Herriot, the beloved vet who made house calls, treated every creature great and small and whose stories shaped our yearning for medicine are largely behind us.

Like every other species we vets need to adapt or be left behind.

But the core of who we are and why we are here cannot be replaced by Wal-Mart, CVS, Rite Aid, or a mobile vaccine clinic. 

Am I going to change with the times? I have to, am I happy to have my pup in my bed, Yes? And am I still James Herriot in spirit? Well, if you know me you know that time never changes this little girls heart. 

1 comment:

  1. Well, I think that our vet has the answer to that. After all, you didn't get into vet med to sell stuff, did you?

    Why compete over things "anybody" can offer? Why not stand out with those things that only you can do? That is your expertise, compassion, the medicine itself.

    How much did you really make on those shots? How often they should really be given?

    What you have, and the other places don't, is being a vet. Annual check ups, caring for sick pets, surgery, those are things that can hardly be taken away from you.

    Our vet pretty much scrapped his inventory. He has the odd thing from those that are in the highest demand. But his inventory would probably fit in the back of his car. Instead, he established an online web store. People can still buy everything they need, products, even prescriptions, for lower price, and he doesn't have to keep all the huge inventory.

    He also established what he calls family health care plans. Which is kind of like a prescription for veterinary services. Client pays reasonably low monthly payments to get some services for free, some with a discount. This allows for two things
    a) loyalty to the clinic and clinic's predictable regular income
    b) veterinary care and follow up care many people would often pass on because of financial reasons.

    Together with his expertise (we travel quite a ways just to see him), this is his solution to the problem. And I think it's working. He seems to have found his zen. And he doesn't seem overly frustrated with the situation you're talking about, because, this way, he doesn't let affect him all that much.

    He's not trying to compete. He's focused on what only he can offer.