I love my job as a doctor of veterinary medicine, mostly because I have a unique ability to focus on the wonderful experiences my career brings me and I am able (usually) to chalk up the negative experiences as inevitable because, well, nothing in this world is perfect. When one observes a recent retention study of the veterinary profession administered by Merck Animal Health, it is clear that unfortunately, a majority of my veterinarian colleagues do not share my joy and this may be a factor in veterinary medicine being ranked first among graduate degree professions in suicide rate.
The study concluded that among my Generation X veterinary peers, only 50% would recommend veterinary medicine as a career choice. Among millennial veterinarians (aged 34 or younger), only 23% would recommend veterinary medicine as a profession. Factors for these sentiments include stress from heavy student loan burdens, poor work-life balance, feeling under-appreciated, and the emotional stress that comes with inevitably losing patients.
However, on top of dealing with these challenges, veterinarians on occasion are treated very poorly by pet owners and that is often the tipping point where veterinarians start to feel progressively less joy in their work. We get accused of being money hungry or not caring about animals simply because an owner may not like his bill. We get accused of gouging because because we cannot always magically garner a diagnosis without recommending diagnostic testing.
I recently got a bad review for one of my clinics by an owner that accused the doctors of running “unnecessary” tests. I wanted to reply, “Really? And how exactly did you come to the conclusion that the testing we recommend is not necessary? Since you clearly know exactly what testing needs to be done, why did you take your pet to a veterinarian in the first place?”
This is hardest for young veterinarians. Our new graduate hire was on service by herself while the other experienced doctor in one of my clinics and I were out of town at a conference. After pouring her heart and soul into the case of a little dog with pancreatitis that ultimately did not recover, the owner accused our passionate and dedicated veterinarian of purposely keeping her dog alive just so that she could get money out of her for all of the testing and hospitalization. What a terrible thing to say to a young veterinarian, especially one who did everything exactly right; especially from an owner that let her dog vomit and wretch for several days before finally agreeing to allow any diagnostics to be run.
Make no mistake, we do not sacrifice 8 years of of our lives to go to school, getting ourselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, with money being our primary purpose. We do it for the passion to one day heal pets and help the families that love them and yes, hopefully earn a decent living to boot.
When sentiments like the ones outlined in this post are put forth to veterinarians by owners that take out their own frustrations it can cut deeply. But before venting with such venom toward a professional who is dedicated to treating animals, understand the following:
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian, highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms, and author of The Man In The White Coat: A Veterinarian’s Tail Of Love. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , general partner of Grant Animal Clinic, and runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care. Dr. Welton fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.