Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Since the official launch of our Love Your Pet Love Your Vet campaign just a few short days ago, I have read and responded to quite a few comments about the costs of veterinary care and the fees charged by veterinarians. So I thought it was very timely to address this.
Financial issues are one of the major contributing factors to veterinarian stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, and suicide - both from the costs of setting up, maintaining, and running a practice, and also dealing with fees charged to customers.
As one of the vets in our campaign aptly pointed out, there is no "Peticare" for our pets. The only thing at this stage that would seem to come close is pet insurance - however, that still has its costs and some policies don't cover the full amount of treatment.
When we think about our human comparison, particularly here in Australia, we have a very good public health service and the bulk (if not all) of our public hospital treatment is covered via Medicare. We can also elect to have private health cover, however, this too, does not always cover 100% of the costs. Imagine if we didn't have Medicare to cover our medical expenses? How much would hospital care and treatment be costing us if we had to pay 100% of the cost like many of us do for veterinary care for our pets and animals? I know when I had an emergency caesarian with my first baby, the cost was rumoured to be around $10,000 (and that was nearly 20 years ago!). Think about how much we would be out-of-pocket if we had to pay 100% of the cost of x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, blood tests, and surgeries - to name a few.
Veterinary practices are not a cheap business to be in - nor are they the "cash cows" some perceive them to be. There can be a very low profit margin (often around 5%), but very high operating costs. For example, another vet in our campaign explained how the cost of one piece of equipment was something like $150,000. Another machine was in the vicinity of $300,000. Many of these machines are the same used for humans - hence the same costs can apply. This particular practice cost over $1,000,000 to set up - and then there is the ongoing maintenance and operating costs on top of that. Add to this, they are in fact not very well paid - particularly when you compare them to other professionals who have a much-higher hourly rate (and likely don't get abused or questioned about it the way vets do). Would you abuse your lawyer, accountant, specialist, doctor, hairdresser, checkout operator (and the like) for their costs? I would guess most would say "no" - so why do some people think it is totally okay to do this to vets?
I am not a veterinarian (I am a psychologist who has completed nearly 7 years of doctoral research into veterinarian wellbeing, and I continue to work exclusively with them), but I am, and have been, a pet owner for most of my life. Yes, I have had the unfortunate experience of having to take two of my pets to the emergency centre (one as recent as Good Friday), and yes - I did get a little concerned about the costs. However, every cent was itemised and accounted for, and there was nothing excessive or unnecessary on my bill. I was lucky to have had pet insurance which did cover some of my expenses, but I have to say the costs were in fact a lot LESS than I had imagined. I have been behind-the-scenes in emergency centres and veterinary clinics and seen the hard work, dedication, and care the staff put into looking after our animals. I have never heard them saying "what else can we charge our customers for", or "what crazy amount of money can we come up with to charge for this procedure" or "how can we rip our customers off".
So please, before you complain about vets being "rip-offs", "only interested in the money", or "uncaring", I ask you to reconsider. Talk to them (politely and respectfully please) about your concerns. I have had to do this myself in the past when I've had financial issues of my own and then had a pet emergency. In my experience, vets will work with you to try and find a solution - remember, they don't like this any more than you do.
I hope this helps to clarify things a bit more.
And remember - please, be nice - it could mean the difference between life and death.
About Dr Nadine Hamilton
As a leading authority on veterinary wellbeing, Dr Hamilton helps veterinary professionals get on top of stress and conflict to avoid burnout and suicide, and also works with practice managers and owners to increase wellbeing, productivity, and retention in the workplace. Additionally, she provide workshops to small and large groups within the private and corporate sectors, and speaks at conferences and symposiums both nationally and internationally.
Her book "Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian - An Evidence-Based Solution to Increase Wellbeing" was released in March 2019 through Australian Academic Press, and is already making a positive impact within the profession - both here in Australia and internationally.
As an advocate for the veterinary profession, Dr Hamilton founded the charity "Love Your Pet Love Your Vet" and partnered with Royal Canin to reduce stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help, raising awareness within the community about the realities of working in the profession, and providing psychological and educational support to veterinary professionals.