2001-Sun Jan 22 21:36:19 MST 2017
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A year ago, I did what fewer and fewer
veterinarians are choosing to do: I became a veterinary practice
owner. In doing so, I learned a lot of predictable things. For
example, why my colleagues are increasingly electing to leave the
owning and managing of a practice to those more temperamentally
suited to the frustrations inherent to boss-dom. But I’ve learned
lots more unexpected things, too. Like why veterinary care is so
First, let me state the obvious (obvious to me, anyway): I’m like
you. I have pets (many of them). I love them, and I work hard to keep
them healthy. I also, believe it or not, struggle to pay their vet
bills. After all, the price of veterinary care isn’t confined to the
cost of the veterinarian.
That said, I never completely understood why veterinary care was as
expensive as it was. It wasn’t until I started analyzing my own
practice's monthly expenses that I realized just how much it costs to provide the level of veterinary care you've come to expect.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Veterinary staff is expensive. By far, the biggest chunk of my budget goes to paying my employees.
Which is as it should be. After all, veterinary expertise is no
longer the domain of the veterinarian alone. Veterinary staff, including the technicians who help with anesthesia, radiology and caring for hospitalized patients, to name a few things, is now more a) educated (and increasingly credentialed), b) experienced,
c) talented and d) hard to find.
All of which means that if you want great veterinary care, you have
to pay for great veterinary staff, too. And that means providing high-quality
health insurance, continuing education (including paths to
certification) and a living wage for all staff members, not just
those in the upper ranks.
Then there are the veterinarians themselves to consider: Because if
I want to hire experienced veterinarians who can communicate well
with my trilingual clientele, I’d better be willing to pay them as
much as I pay myself (or more). And if I want to hire young
veterinarians, I need to be aware that a) they’ll need a lot of
time-intensive mentorship on my part and b) they may have up to
$300,000 in student loan debt to shoulder. To some extent, any fair
income will have to take that enormous burden into consideration.
2. Veterinarians outsource a lot of specialty services. Used to be your veterinarian would make all her own
medical decisions. Today, you might be surprised to learn the degree to
which modern veterinary practices rely on veterinary expertise
outside their walls.
Consider that X-rays get sent to veterinary radiologists, tissue and blood samples go to veterinary pathologists, and phone calls
are placed to nutritionists and toxicologists (among other
resources). Even specialists get shipped in on occasion (for
example, we have an internal medicine specialist who comes in
weekly for consultations).
All this consulting and outsourcing means that your veterinarian is
relying on the expertise of specialists to help raise the level of care your pet receives. Great stuff for sure.
But it also makes your vet care pricier than it used to be.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
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