I am almost hesitant to post this, as I don’t want it to come off as unsympathetic or negative, but there is always one aspect of my job that bothers me than others. We frequently get calls from people who need to bring their pet in but “don’t have money.” And I fully accept that there are people out there who, for whatever reason, have fallen on hard times and are struggling to make ends meet, including health care for them and their pets. There are many others who simply feel that pet care should be free and that we exist only to rip people off and cheat them out of their money. (I have had one client make a comment — after a $70 vet bill — that he was “in the wrong profession.”) It’s not uncommon for people to complain about a bill after professing that they “will spend anything” to save their pets, asking to “be billed” of “set up payment plans,” and usually we are lucky to see even 10% of the bill. We have people get upset when we tell them that we must have some form of payment at the time of the visit, most of whom act so indignant that we would even make such a request. And then there is my favorite — the belief that vet bills should be almost nothing because we “aren’t real doctors.”

Allow me to address these. The clients who genuinely can’t afford the vet bills are usually the ones exhausting every last resource to find a way to pay. These people exist, but they are rare. It’s hard for me to accept not having enough money to pay for a $15 vaccine when they have fresh ink on their arms and an iPhone 4. What people fail to understand is that this is how I make my living. This is what I studied for 8 years to do, sacrificing time, money, and a good chunk of my sanity. I don’t do this for the money; I don’t do this because I want to go on lavish vacations, have the latest most expensive car, or spend my lunch breaks on the golf course (which I have actually had a client accuse me of when I wasn’t there on my lunch break to see her as a walk-in). I still drive the same car I had in high school, and I’ll probably be paying on my debt until I die. I do this job because it is my passion, because nothing makes me happier than seeing a pet feel better and watching the owner light up when it happens.

Still, this isn’t free. I still need to eat, make payments on those loans I’ve accumulated, put gas in the 10-year-old car I have, feed my pets, and occasionally put a bit aside for when something goes wrong. There have been months when my bills exceeded our combined income and it was only by the grace of having saved up in the months prior that we made it through. I have taken on additional jobs to bring in even a small amount of extra income. There are costs associated with running the clinic. We have to pay for everything you see us use. Every syringe, every needle, every pill that goes out the door (and the bottles it goes home in) costs us money. There is the cost of the electricity, the water, the heating and cooling units, the cleaning supplies to keep the rooms sanitary, the equipment we use for diagnostics, insurances, the machines to process credit cards, the paper we give receipts on, all of this has to be paid for. Then there is the issue of paying for our time. Sure, you can go get advice from the breeder down the street or the pet store owner, and you can buy some vaccines and medicines at the local feed store. But what about the knowledge needed to use these safely? No matter how many years a pet store employee or breeder has been in business, they do not have the proper training to know the intricacies of medicine. As veterinarians, we are expected to train yearly and further our education regularly or we lose our license. How many breeders are operating on knowledge from 20 years ago? We go through the same amount of school that an MD goes through, and they only have to learn one species. And if you compared our starting salaries, you would probably be shocked at how little veterinarians make in comparison.

Emergencies are another cost. In some big cities, there are clinics that specialize in taking cases after normal business hours. In small towns like here, usually the emergency clinic is “waking your vet up.” Yes, these cost more. We sacrifice sleep, family meals, family events, holidays, all so that we can be available in a time of need. Our families sacrifice these things with us, because it disrupts their lives as well. Again, this isn’t something we do to make money, we do it out of a commitment to providing the best service available to our clients. We do it willingly because it is part of our job, something we knew we would have to do when we started this journey. (Keep in mind that an emergency surgery at 3am will use more electricity, water, etc than what is used during a normal business day, again adding to our costs that we have to pay for).

Please do not think i am complaining. I love what I do and love where I am. We do all of this because this is what we want to do. Of course there are veterinarians out there that DO try to squeeze every last dime out of their clients, but they are the exception to the rule. Veterinary medicine isn’t the latest “get rich quick” scheme, it isn’t an elaborate hoax to use a person’s concern for their pet to swindle money for no reason, it is a passion. So the next time you are tempted to grumble over your vet bill, please keep these things in mind. This is how we make our living, no different than any other person with a job. The thing that separates us from many, however, is the amount of passion we throw into our work. And that isn’t something you can buy.