How do you stack up against other professionals?

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You can probably look down the street and see someone you know doing a job similar to the one you do every day. The only difference: The patients at your practice are pets, and theirs are people.

Karen Felsted "It doesn't matter what job you have, there are always going to be jobs that pay less and jobs that pay more. And if your whole focus is money, you need to pick one of those fields that pays more. But typically you don't only pick a field because of money. You pick a field because it's a job you like and you're good at it."

You can probably look down the street and see someone you know doing a job similar to the one you do every day. The only difference: The patients at your practice are pets, and theirs are people.

So if you're doing similar jobs—answering phones, scheduling appointments, taking blood samples, nursing sick patients—why aren't you paid the same? Two simple reasons: your doctors don't make what theirs do, and many of their patients have insurance that helps defray the out-of-pocket expenses of medical care. Put simply, doctors and dentists make more, so they can pay more (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

"People pay more out of their pockets as a percentage for veterinary care than they do for human care, because many people are covered by health insurance," says Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a consultant with Gatto McFerson CPAs in Santa Monica, Calif. "More of the expense comes out of their pockets, so, to some extent, that limits the care they're going to provide. And this limits how big our industry can grow, which limits how much people are going to make. It's just a different market."

It's the intangibles, silly

Admit it. You love kittens. You love puppies. In fact, a 2005 AVHC Veterinary Team Study shows many of you say you picked veterinary practice because you love animals. So when you compare your work with other career paths, don't forget the cute-and-cuddly factor.

"One of the greatest parts of working in veterinary medicine is working with people who absolutely love their pets," says Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, a Firstline board member and a consultant with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. "Our clients' families may think they're nuts, but we understand them. We love our pets, too. And we can say it's OK to smooch your pets on the face and roll on the floor with them. We work with a community of people who really understand what it's like to love a pet."

Veterinary medicine also presents a range of different challenges you can't find in human medicine, Grosdidier says. While team members in human practices work with one species, their veterinary counterparts work with all species except people. "We get to see dogs, cats, gerbils, horses, and sheep," she says. "We must be well-versed in all subjects for all species, because we may be the only resource pet owners have for their information. It's a wonderfully challenging career."

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