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Going the distance: Can new graduates keep pace with the greatest generation?
They might even have to turn off their cell phones and occasionally work a little unpaid overtime for the common good.
February 2002, East Coast Veterinary School, USA
Jamie Starks sat munching on her lunch. She was thumbing through a notebook containing various job listings that had been sent to the university. Joanne was looking over her shoulder.
"Here's one that pays $50,000 with no emergency and a big benefit package," she exclaimed.
"I know, I saw it yesterday," Joanne chirped. "It is in the middle of town though, and the shopping around that area is atrocious."
"Here is one near a ski resort in Vermont. The pay is low, but I love to ski."
"Look here. Here is a large animal practice in Nebraska offering $85,000 and a truck if you will just come and join the practice."
Both Jamie and Joanne looked at each other and laughed out loud and started singing an often-repeated lunchroom jingle in rap style,
"If its' a snowin', we ain't a goin'."
"If its' a blowin', we ain't a showin'."
Jamie started to laugh so hard that the peanut butter sandwich that she had been eating blew out over the notebook. It was Joanne's turn, and she laughed like a bazooka. Her side started to hurt so bad she had to walk around the room. The class consensus was that no one was going to Nebraska without a new Hummer to sweeten the deal.
Dr. John McAdam walked in the room to pour a cup of coffee. John was a clinician that had been named student advisor for the third- and fourth-year students. He was well liked.
He walked over to see what the students were doing. He slurped at the bitter brew and managed to drip a few drops of java on his new tie.
"Whatever you do, don't take less than $55,000, and make sure that you get every benefit up front that you can negotiate. We had a student last year that demanded a $2,000 signing bonus and got it," he said.
"Wow that would be great. My priority is that I want to make sure that my first practice has state-of-the-art equipment and a good emergency clinic nearby. I really don't want to work more than 35 to 40 hours max." Jamie added.
John went on to explain that it is important to negotiate the best financial package that you can possibly manage. He noted that you have made this enormous sacrifice, and now is the time to cash in all that hard work.
"Besides," he says, "paying off that enormous school loan is a priority. It's about time for those stingy practitioners to pony up."
Joanne's side had finally quit hurting, and she was taking this all in. She had maxed out her loans but had been able to lease a new Toyota with their help. Early on in veterinary school, she had insisted on living on the edge of town in a comfortable duplex. The Toyota had been a "necessity" since she was more than three miles from campus. Her parents helped her some, but she figured she still would graduate with an accumulation of student debt near six figures. She never had worked a real job in her life, and she now was apprehensive as she approached the interview process.
October 2004, Suburbia Animal Hospital
Joanne looked at the clock. She had come in a few minutes early to check on Millie, the hospitalized Dachshund with a disc problem. It was now 4 p.m., and she boldly walked to Dr. Henry's office. Dr. Henry owns the practice. On his desk were the usual pile of bills and heaps of papers that were in a slow but progressive march to completion.
"I just saw my last client. Can I leave a little early today?" Joanne cooed.
Henry was bushed but had two more clients to see. He waved to the door and weakly smiled. He would have to stay after work anyway.
Joanne opened the driver's side door of her Toyota and started the engine. She quickly cocked her head to the left and placed her cell phone in a familiar depression along her neck. She voice-activated her voicemail as she punched various buttons on her satellite radio and slipped away for a night on the town. She had $57 in her checkbook and an $18,000 credit-card debt. There were no calls.
As she drove away, she contemplated a strange dichotomy. Joanne loved animals but hated her job. She really didn't know why.
She had never really asked to join any of the associations that published professional journals. That seemed to be Dr. Henry's domain. He paid her dues, and she read the journals.
She had progressed slowly from eagerly reading entire articles in the professional journals to glancing at the abstracts. Recently, she found herself only reading the classified sections looking for greener grass.
Last week, she had found what seemed to be her perfect job across town: It had the basics she already had—no call, good salary and fringes. But this job, although it paid a little less, included three weeks of paid vacations and no Saturday work. She had agreed to an interview next Wednesday. She reminded herself to call in sick Wednesday.
Joanne turned the bass up and smiled.
A few hours later, Dr. Henry piled into his aging Taurus after having checked on Millie one last time for Joanne.
The Candy store
Too often new graduates look upon their prospective places of employment as a cafeteria or candy store to browse over and ultimately pick based on a value that favors his or her side of the equation. This has created an unrealistic expectation of practice and dissatisfaction that leads to a quick professional divorce.
Once the divorce is final, there is a new chase for some form of nirvana in the next practice environment. The current American culture of consumerism largely has brought this upon us.
A whole new nation of Americans has been brought up to think that life is an equation that needs balancing in their favor. This mindset has them looking for value in everything around them. This approach to life says that when you are seeking to do anything, you must at least break even on the deal. Therefore, any added input on your part is wasted and is of no benefit. This means that if the other side of the equation is seen to benefit more than your side, then it is somehow unfair. In other words, it is self-centered. If, on the other hand, you perceive yourself to have gained on the transaction, then value has been added to your life. This is the goal.
Education in America
Everyone expects the government or someone to deliver quality education to our children. As children become young adults, a small minority enter veterinary school. They are "trading" their time, efforts and money for a degree. In return, they expect the school to offer them the credential of graduation. It has become, in their minds, a consumptive behavior. Consumption begins with the mantra, "I want to be a veterinarian," and so the consumption process begins. There seems to be very little thought to a contribution to society unless it involves personal goals, such as, "I want to protect animals from ________."
Thus, we have evolved a profession based on the desires of individuals—not necessarily societal needs. This has led a portion of our young veterinarians to have a self-centered approach to the profession. "What can it do for me?"
Very few in veterinary schools (both professors and students) have any real idea what it costs to put a student through veterinary school. If all the costs of running a veterinary school (minus the research segment) is factored in, it is likely to be much more than twice the cost that students borrow and spend to fund their education. This means the taxpayer is the unseen and unthanked "sugar daddy" in the educational process.
What causes economic growth?
If everyone in America decided to do just what was required of them and nothing else, then there would be negative growth in the economy and in our personal lives. It is likely that our country would start to move backward very quickly.
Growth in our civilization and economy is dependent on altruism and working for the common good—doing things beyond the self. This country was built by people going the extra mile and offering to do more than is required of them. Indeed, the safety of all its citizens depends on those that can give up their lives in the line of duty—from firefighters to soldiers on overseas duty.
Although there are many today still laboring on behalf of others, there is an ever-growing segment of Americans who are self-centered. They have a form of myopia brought upon by the media and the omnipresent pall of consumerism.
Pass the baton
Today's graduates are practicing on the shoulders of a large army of veterinarians who have made tremendous sacrifices in time and effort in all areas of the profession to make way for what is now a highly developed and proud profession. Most of these individuals worked 80 to 90 hours per week to survive.
There were no emergency clinics and local laboratories. In fact, just a few decades ago, making a simple diagnosis of feline leukemia meant sending slides to Dr. Hardy in New York City and waiting two to three weeks for the outcome. There was very little local support for the local practitioner at all. It is amazing that these practitioners were able to achieve notable surgical and medical success with little staff and money. That was just the way it was.
I am not proposing that we go back to those days. Those days were but a mile-marker in the long struggle to improve the profession. These individuals are to be praised and emulated for their work ethic.
Many young veterinarians who are adrift are seeking self-actualization through the profession provided by someone else. They are only partly to blame. Our society has created this culture of consumerism. Hopefully, there will be those in this current generation that will be able to rise above it and create the profession of tomorrow.
Yet, there will still be those that remain self centered and ultimately unhappy. They will find that true satisfaction comes by devoting themselves to their clients, their employers and finally to their patients. They might even have to turn off their cell phones and occasionally work a little unpaid overtime for the common good.
Roses, by the way, do exist if you look down and take the time to smell them. That rose might in fact be the practice in which you are currently working.