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The heart of veterinary medicine
A Q&A with veterinary cardiologist Stephen J. Ettinger, DVM
DVM: You've spent your career focused, in large part, on small-animal internal medicine and cardiology. What's new in these two areas of veterinary medicine that you think will be significant in the near future?
Too much too fast: "The cost of Âservices is becoming Âexcessive," ÂEttinger says. "Better-quality Âmedicine doesn't have to be the most Âexpensive options." (PHOTO: MARK SAVAGE)
Ettinger: Both fields will continue to grow. There will be growth due to the nature of referral practice and referral medicine.
Also, there is a need in these fields of medicine, and in veterinary medicine in general, to continue to really respond to what clients want: better quality medicine and reasonable prices. They don't want make-believe stuff, nor are they seeking over-the-top care. The clients want good quality care, 24/7.
Ultimately, we're going to see pet insurance playing a role in helping to ensure that better small-animal medicine will be available. Look for pet healthcare plans to improve.
DVM: What advances are on the horizon for veterinarians?
Ettinger: Look for improvements in the overall quality of veterinary medicine. Academically, medicine continues to improve. There's an excellent amount of research and efforts toward one medicine — human, veterinary and public health. This move toward one medicine has made us a better profession, but we still have to make our clients know and appreciate this.
Watch for developments in the area of genetic medicine. Surgical techniques gleaned from human medicine also give us huge new opportunities. And we'll be exploring treatment of aging disease. It's a very exciting time in veterinary medicine.
DVM: Any trends or specific issues within veterinary medicine that may have a great effect on DVMs in 2010?
Ettinger: Nationwide, we are feeling the pressure related to the downturn of the economy. It would be neglectful and foolhardy to think we're over the economic problem.
Any practice will tell you it is down 5 percent to 10 percent. If you're down, and you've increased prices, you're down more than that. We can't be ignorant of the economy.
Veterinarians are going to have to offer better medicine in a more reasonable way. Some are already doing a wonderful job. Others are blindsided and cannot recognize the needs of the clients. We have to remember we are providing services to clients on an as-needed, as-wanted basis. We cannot be cavalier about that. What the economy has shown us is that people are not willing to pay ever-increasing prices.
Veterinarians will have to look at other ways of seeking payment for services without reducing — or increasing?— service costs. It will become more important to offer more payment options people can use. The cost of services is becoming excessive and beyond people's means. Better-quality medicine doesn't have to be the most expensive options.
DVM: As director of the California Animal Hospital Veterinary Specialty Group in Los Angeles, can you speak to how this operation is faring in spite of tough economic times?
Ettinger: To clarify, I'm currently the overall director of the 23 hospitals in the California Animal Hospital Veterinary Specialty Group. All of those hospitals reflect the economy in the area in which they are located. Those practices in stronger areas — Beverly Hills, certain parts of Los Angeles?— held up better than practices outside of San Diego and Palm Springs.
DVM: What business strategies will keep practices financially healthy when clients may have lost jobs or been forced to tighten their budgets?
Ettinger: Client communication is critical. Keep excellent medical records, and demonstrate excellence on your Web sites by making information available to your clients online.
The difficult economic times likely will lead to fewer of the one- or two-doctor practices and more group practices with extended hours and increased services.
DVM: What advice would you offer today's veterinary students?
Ettinger: Look very carefully at debt you are going to incur and what you're going to be able to get in return. A recent blog on the Wall Street Journal's Web site (http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2010/01/04) focuses on why more women are choosing veterinary medicine. It can be a helpful read for women in the process of pursuing a career in veterinary medicine.
For experienced veterinarians, it's important that we continue to go to meetings for continuing clinical education. But veterinarians also have to understand the techniques to deliver quality medicine.
If you know how to talk to clients, if you demonstrate well that you like clients and the animals, and if your staff knows all of this and can observe it, you're going to be a better veterinarian. It seems so reasonable but sadly, it is so often forgotten. People don't want to know how smart you are; they want to see how much you care. Given the opportunity, people are very trusting of their veterinarians. Veterinarians play a significant role in their lives.
The problem is, veterinarians don't have good backgrounds from veterinary schools when it comes to working with clients. In veterinary school, you talk medicine. No one teaches techniques on selling medicine and communication skills to your clients.
DVM: What excites you most about practicing veterinary medicine today?
Ettinger: It is a wonderful profession. Most of our clients are incredibly appreciative. Most veterinarians love the animals they treat. It is an honor to still practice medicine.
Editor's Note: Stephen J. Ettinger, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, is a graduate of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine and director of 23 hospitals under the umbrella of California Animal Hospital Veterinary Specialty Group in Los Angeles. He has spent more than 45 years practicing small-animal medicine, specifically internal medicine and cardiology. He has served as chief medical officer of PetDRx, which offers veterinary primary care services to companion animals through a network of veterinary hospitals. Dr. Ettinger has authored nine textbooks for veterinary medicine. He recently shared his opinions with DVM Newsmagazine about trends within the market.