Practice for profit - Respect must be earned


Identity crises are for other people. I am what I am. I'm a veterinarian and proud to wear that title.

Identity crises are for other people. I am what I am. I'm a veterinarian and proud to wear that title.

I remember — after four years of undergraduate school and hard years of military service — feeling the agony of applying to six out-of-state colleges of veterinary medicine — lamenting my chances for acceptance with my in-state applications. A good cup of coffee in a diner was a nickel.

I remember the unmitigated joy of opening that one-page letter of acceptance after five letters of rejection. I also remember my wife fainting at the news.

I'll never forget the four difficult years of instruction before being cast out into the world of reality to reconcile the gap between actual practice to the theoretical academic vision that existed only in the hallowed halls of veterinary college.

I remember the $5 office visit/exam fee and the K/D™ at $8.

I remember opening my practice five miles away from my first employer, where I learned Addisson's syndrome was a seldom-never, and fleas were an always-ever.

I remember staying up all night with critically ill patients before the advent of emergency clinics. In those days, working a half-day meant 12 hours.

I remember buying a first house surrounded by RDs (real doctors-physicians) who after just a few years, abandoned those first homes to buy million-dollar houses to shelter their growing incomes.

I remember my children sleeping over at their friend's homes and asking why the RD's kids had bedrooms three times the size of theirs. I told them it was to keep them from playing football in the house. Physicians make a whole lot more money than veterinarians.

But I rose eagerly every day, never once thinking that I had made a mistake, never once regretting my career choice and proud to do what few others are privileged to do. We are held in high regard by many, including physicians. Every day was an adventure, especially in a semi-tropical climate where birds, reptiles and exotic cats were an every-week experience, and fleas pervaded every corner of practice life.

I remember getting on airplanes wearing an animal-pattern tie that elicited compliments from cabin stewards. I would respond, "Why not, I'm a veterinarian!" This was followed by airline staff showing me pictures of their pets at cruising altitude; it also triggered free drinks and a lot of cookies.

On several occasions, I remember returning to the United States after speaking abroad, and customs officers would wave me through with a welcome while picking through the parcels of bankers and businessmen in front of me. Mighty lawmakers and small children alike revere us.

Turning point

After 29 years of one-on-one exam room visits, I was approached to sell my facility. Because I was burning the practitioner candle and holding the consulting flame as well, I conceded practice life in an attempt to reduce my 60-hour work week to 35-40 hours just doing the consulting. What a delusion.

Full-time consulting is much more time intensive than I had imagined. Often in a strange city for four or five days at a time only to return to a backlog of articles to be submitted, consulting reports to be written, practice valuations to compute and hundreds of readers' e-mails to reply to. Did I mention a family life?

My children now have children of their own, and I am fortunate to be married to a wonderful woman who shares my travel and my work.

Having said all this, I must note that my colleagues report that our profession has changed greatly. For better or worse is not for me to judge.

Many recent graduates now opt for a much freer lifestyle. They do not wish to be burdened by practicing more than 40 hours a week or seeing patients after hours, never mind in the middle of the night.

Four-day weeks and lots of vacation time are requisites for many today. Percentage of personal-production compensation seems to rule out injured wildlife or humane society cases in their appointment schedules. Filling in for an ill colleague takes on titanic repercussions in many practices, and practice ownership is not a goal for most. Fewer hours, no management responsibilities, no long-term commitments or even fulfilling current contracts seems to be the epidemic attitude today.

There are many new graduates who do not fit this mold, but enough do to cause premature balding and rampant hypertension for practice owners of both sexes. Perhaps their quest for a more affluent, less troublesome lifestyle is right!

My generation was crazy to work 60- to 70-hour weeks without vacation in order to build up equity in what can become un-sellable practices for lack of either profits or buyers. We earned a pride in our work and prestige in our society the hard way. I sincerely hope the new generations can say the same in 30 years.

Dr. Snyder, a well-known consultant, publishes Veterinary Productivity, a newsletter for practice productivity and is available for in-practice consultation. He can be reached at 2895 SW Bear Paw Trail, Palm City, FL 34990; (800) 292-7995;; Fax (772) 220-4355.

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