We consider ourselves members of the medical profession, comparing our wages and starting salary with those of physicians and dentists. Our training and skill levels are on par with these other professionals, and we like to think of ourselves as equals.
However, I recently attended a continuing-education seminar given by a well-known and well-respected member of our profession who was speaking to us on management issues. Partway through the evening, the speaker made a statement that we are really in the retail business and went on to say that the key to success is keeping our clinics open seven days a week and extending our hours far beyond traditional office times. In addition, others of the same mindset encourage the one-stop shopping concept of medical care, boarding, grooming, and retail all under one roof.
So now I am confused. As I look for a direction for my practice, should I be looking to the Mayo Clinic or Wal-Mart?
I think that we, as a profession, need to decide what we want to be. Are we medical professionals, worthy of respect and comfortable wages? Or are we high-volume retail salespeople, available any time of day or night, to make a buck?
It is my opinion that if we want to be seen as medical professionals, we need to act like ones. I do not get my hair cut at the ER, look for a hospital to stay in while on vacation (I really hope to avoid that as much as possible), or seek out midnight teeth cleanings from my dentist. Why do we continue to think that we must offer the equivalent services to the animal-owning public?
There is no question that people increasingly have work schedules that make it difficult to do business between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. But over the years, we have also seen the human-animal bond grow stronger. I see more and more of my clients willing to take time off from work to care for a sick pet or spend a few days at home as it recovers from surgery.
When I first entered practice in 1996, our hospital had extended hours one night a week. We rotated emergency duty with neighboring clinics, despite close-by emergency hospitals. Until about five years ago, as often as our schedules allowed, we had two of the three doctors present on Saturdays.
No longer. We now close at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. All after-hours emergencies are sent to the emergency clinic. Only one doctor works on Saturdays, and we close an hour earlier. I know a number of practices that are closed completely on Saturdays.
And you know what? Life is good. Our practice continues to grow. Our compensation is good. Our staff is not burned out by long hours, and we all enjoy the time away from work.
Too many veterinarians burn out on the profession, and high-quality support staff is hard to find. It is also often discussed that the newer generations of veterinarians place an increased value on personal and family time. Meanwhile, the ever-increasing debt of new graduates is another great cause of concern.
Many dread the effect these combined factors will have on the future of the profession. While there is no single solution to the problems of the profession, I think the search for answers must start by asking what we want our profession to be.
Do you want to be a member of the medical community, valued for your skills and knowledge, or are you content to be in after-hours retail sales?
Personally, I vote for being medical professionals.
Drew L. Allen, DVM
Brickyard Animal Hospital
1213 E. 3300 South
Salt Lake City, Utah