Before you get upset about the size of that vet bill, consider this.
My very first week of college: I was living on a dorm floor where a group of Pre-Veterinary students were housed. We were called to a meeting in one of the study rooms, and one of the very first things that was said to me in that meeting, I will never forget. My academic adviser stood in front of the room and said, “If I were to make a bet on how many of you will get into vet school, I would bet against every single one of you. The odds are in my favor.”
There are only 30 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States. In other words, every state does not have a college where you can earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. This statement may not hold much weight to you, but it means a lot more than the fact that many prospective students will have to travel out of state to become a veterinarian. Each school only has a definitive number of spots, which means a huge shortage of availability when it comes to the vast amount of students striving to become a vet. Not to mention, those dreaded words “out-of-state tuition” become all too real.
Competition, competition, competition.
With such a great shortage of spots, this means the stakes are high and the chances of success are low. Many colleges of veterinary medicine will only accept only the top 10 to 15 percent of applicants or less. If you are an out-of-state applicant, your odds of getting in are much lower, so much that you may have to be ranked in the top 3 to 5 percent of applicants. Students have to have impeccable grades even through tough pre-requisites like Genetics, Physics and Organic Chemistry, but even a 4.0 GPA doesn’t make you a shoo-in. You must do well on the GRE, and the application committee wants to see that you have leadership experience, involvement in extracurriculars, research experience, volunteering, and a variety of experiences within the field. They even want you to have a licensed veterinarian write you a letter of recommendation to their program. Your veterinarian would probably have had a better chance of getting accepted to medical school.
If getting into veterinary school wasn’t hard enough, the profession comes with its own set of challenges. The undergraduate pre-requisites of Pre-Veterinary Medicine are nearly identical to Pre-Medical pre-requisites. In addition, both careers (veterinarian and medical doctor )require 4 years of strenuous study, which is also very similar in nature. Individuals of both professions often go on to a residency or internship position, and may even go on to specialize in a particular field. They even pay (or borrow) the same comparable price in hundreds of thousands of dollars for their education. However, despite all of the similarities in the amount of work and money required to attain their degree, on average, veterinarians will only earn a fraction of the income that human medicine doctors earn.
Besides income and student debt, there are a few other unique challenges that come with the profession. Unlike human medicine, your patients can’t tell you what is wrong, how it happened, or what happened. On the same token, you can’t necessarily communicate to them that you are only trying to help. Therefore, veterinarians have to have sharp investigative skills and a strong intuition. And, it’s common to come out of an appointment with bites, scratches, and bruises.
Veterinarians can also get a bad wrap when it comes to clients and payment. There’s a lot of misconceptions and frustrations about the amount that veterinarians charge for their services. Despite their best intentions, they often get the brunt of things when a client is denied care because they can’t afford it, whereas in human medicine, there are greater funds and donations, and things like insurance. A doctor who provides treatment to someone who can’t pay them is pulling money out of clinic/hospital funds. However, a veterinarian that provides this same type of care is usually taking on those losses directly.
All the same, there hasn’t been a day that I’ve worked in the profession that I haven’t witnessed veterinarians who are given a set budget by a client utilize their skills to weigh the odds and come up with the best possible treatment plan for their patient with what they are given. I’ve seen vets discuss with their technicians whether or not the set price in the computer is fair for the lengthy procedure they performed, and I’ve seen little things added on for free to those clients who have already put in so much time and money.
But, don’t get me wrong – the veterinary profession isn’t drab and dreary. It’s full of determined, intelligent, resilient, and creative people who do this job because they truly have a passion for it. As a future veterinarian, I can personally attest that you can rest assured that your veterinarian takes pride in their job and truly loves what they do. They worked way too hard and jumped through way too many hoops to get there by accident. Of course everyone needs to make a living, but the truth is, if someone was setting out just to make money, they would not have become a veterinarian.
Whether a health officer, a researcher, a specialist, or in private practice, veterinarians are advocates, investigators, caregivers, and consolers. They care about you and your pet and aren’t looking to take advantage of you; they have struggled through a lot to be there for you. They just want you to meet them half way.
Cover Image Credit: Dog Training Nation