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When I was a child, I thought my school teacher lived at the school. If I ever saw my teacher at a store or restaurant, it amazed me to know she was ever anywhere other than the school building. It's easy to compartmentalize people and forget that they are human just like we are, with ups and downs, families and dreams, bills and stress.

How do you picture your veterinarian? How well do you know him/her? How did we come to this field of medicine that is so challenging, so rewarding, and, at times, so heartbreaking? What motivates us? Is your pet just another patient we see in our day? Are you just another client?

In my next two columns, I hope to give you a different perspective on your veterinarian. I thought about what I would want people to know about us, as relates to our profession. I do not claim to speak for every veterinarian, but I think, on average, the following is pretty accurate...

  1. Your veterinarian truly cares about your pet. He has dedicated his life's work to make the best decisions possible for your pet. Chances are, if your pet is sick, your vet is thinking about them long after the workday is done. There is no "clock out" time for veterinarians. We work through cases in our sleep, research new treatment options over our weekends, give up our lunches to see the unscheduled patient that just came through the door, cancel dinner plans to try just one more thing, and miss our children's activities to meet you for your pet's emergency. Your veterinarian would not do those things if he did not care.

  2. Your veterinarian truly cares about YOU. Ok, some vets are better at this than others, but for the most part, veterinarians understand people on a deep level. There are many appointments spent working through emotions, tough choices, guilt, and memories our clients associate with their pets. Often, there is so much attached to the animal on our exam table: a loved one that's passed away, an innermost secret that only the pet has ever been told, a hope for a new start, so many things. Animals are a safe place for your emotions, and these emotions come out in the clinic more often than not. Because vets are understanding of this and are there to protect your relationship with your pet, clients confide in us things they have not told another living soul. Your vet wants to take excellent care of your pet largely because of YOU. You need that companion, that special friendship you share with that ball of fur in front of us!

  3. It's not all about the money! As vets, we are medical professionals, but also small business owners. We employ the people who are saving your pet's life. This is how they feed their children, take care of their families, better their lives. It is necessary to charge for our products and services in order to sign paychecks, keep lights on, and purchase the tools and equipment we use to care for your pet. If you look at comparative costs between veterinary medicine and human medicine, we are offering many similar services, we are using similar equipment. We are charging a fraction of the price. I will go out on a limb to say that no vet has entered this profession for the promise of financial gain. And, I promise, if there are any vets reading this right now, they just chuckled at that last sentence! Student debt for veterinarians is no joke, and many vets will not repay their loans until close to retirement. Your vet is not overcharging you.

  4. It's not all puppies and kittens. When children dream of becoming veterinarians, they picture playing with puppies and kittens all day. Society's view of veterinarians is much the same. Granted, new puppy and kitten appointments are our favorites! They are definitely bright spots in our day, but they are a very small portion of what we do. In a typical day, we see everything from new babies to geriatric patients, minor illness to surgical emergencies. Our day is up and down as far as emotion, adrenaline, energy, and interaction. In one exam room, we are celebrating. In the next, we are grieving with our clients. It is emotionally and mentally exhausting. It is not what you picture at all.

Continued in the next edition

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