by Andy Mathis DVM
Veterinarians and veterinary medicine have an image problem. The general public sees us as “greedy bastards that only care about money”. Which isnʼt true. No one goes to vet school to get rich, but that is the stigma we are dealing with. Having read social media posts and comments made by people throwing our profession under the bus, I knew this. But even I was surprised how vast this (incorrect) perception truly was until I started getting emails and messages after a good samaritan case went viral online in Feb. 2016. 9 out of 10 messages and emails had the same, and similar sentiment - ʻwe wished more vets cared about their patients”, “we wish more vets were like you”, “my vet treats me like a commodity”, “vets only care about money and getting paid”. Different versions and yet the same.
Dr. Mathis in the video that went viral
Which isnʼt true. Iʼm like every other veterinarian out there. On some days, Iʼm trying to pay the bills to keep the doors open, and on other days, trying to save everybody. Those two objectives are often on opposite ends of the spectrum.
So why does the public get this wrong? They donʼt know medicine, so they are coming to this conclusion and belief in other ways. And if they canʼt judge veterinary care based on medicine and quality of care, they judge it based on price and personal experience.
Some refuse to believe that veterinarians care about their patients. Others, since they donʼt know medicine, donʼt understand and canʼt see that a vet cares. And the third reason, veterinarians have trouble communicating that they care about their patients.
And thatʼs because of the curse of knowledge. We know medicine, but donʼt realize how little clients do, so in trying to explain things, they are left confused.
Another factor that happened when the internet came around, was that we had our revenue streams and profit taken away, or we gave it away, depending on how you look at it, by online pharmacies. And for those in general practice, more profit was taken away with vaccine clinics and spay -neuter clinics. The profit that paid salaries and overhead. So a client that went to the vet for a sick patient before all this, might have paid $15 for an office visit. Today, they might pay $40-45 for the same service. In their mind, that makes us greedy.
So what does this have to do with the mental health and well being of veterinarians and veterinary staff? A lot actually. Much has been written about how those in the vet med profession are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, burnout, and even suicide.
Many new graduates come out of veterinary school with a huge student loan burden to deal with. Practice owners are trying to figure out to pay the bills, cover everyoneʼs salaries, and deal with unrealistic client expectations. It creates a stressful environment.
The Bayer Veterinary Study came out in 2011 and 2014 and looked at the reason why people quit going to the veterinarian. But it didnʼt offer much insight into how to fix the problem.
The other problem- not all clinics are affected. Some clinics are busy and doing well, while others are struggling to attract clients. It has nothing to do with medicine. Specialty practices are a little bit insulated, but they will be affected if general practices close. For those affected, the solution is smarter marketing. Giving clients and potential new clients, a reason to pick you over some of these other options.
As Seth Godin has said, People donʼt buy goods and services. They buy relations,
stories, and magic.
If you find yourself struggling in practice- whatever the reason- take a step back and look for the source. For every problem, there is a solution. If you are not happy dealing with clients and staff, set some boundaries, and enforce them. If you are struggling financially, perhaps you have a visibility problem with not enough appointments. Not enough people know that you exist, where you are, or why they should choose you.
Look at both your online and offline marketing collateral with a critical eye to determine what needs to change to attract your ideal client. Your website, your social media accounts, your in-office interactions between clients and staff. Sometimes its difficult to see the forest for the trees, so to speak, so it might be helpful to seek the advice of an outsider.
Your zone of genius is a mix of your talent and skills, your knowledge, and your life experiences. When clients show up there itʼs a win-win for everybody.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.