Vet med’s New Year’s resolutions for 2022

As the saying goes, it’s up to us to be the change we want to see in our profession

All in all, 2021 wasn’t so terrible, was it? It was no cakewalk, but it certainly did not rise to 2020 standards of deplorability. Then again, conventional wisdom tells us frogs in a hot bath don’t resent being boiled alive if the heat rises subtly enough. Not sure veterinary medicine completely agrees (from an amphibian welfare perspective), but the parallel to humanity in a pandemic seems apt enough. Ribbit.

We are all just muddling through, which is to say, we could be doing better. Our profession could certainly use some love right about now. Preoccupied as we have been to reducing health risks, forestalling bad client behavior, managing workflow, and keeping ourselves staffed, it’s understandable if we have been ignoring some of what once (pre-pandemic) seemed so very pressing.

Now that the pandemic fever pitch seems to have cooled and a new year has fully dawned, it feels timely to turn our attention to matters beyond those we’ve either addressed as thoroughly as we can or no longer have much control over. To this end, and in no particular order, I’ve compiled a wish list of some of the issues you might agree (or not) are worthy of our profession’s attention as we head into 2022.

1) Acquire more foreign language skills

Suburban demographics in the U.S. are still trending Hispanic. Our area is trending Brazilian and Russian, too. While all our docs speak Spanish, only one speaks Brazilian-style Portuguese and none of us can speak a lick of Russian. This might explain why we so grieved the loss of the Veterinary Information Network’s powerful translation tool on its free-to-all, client information service (Veterinary Partner). Clicking on a drop-down menu, we could select any major language and email client education articles on hundreds of topics. It was awesome!

It seems sad to lose this just when our profession needs such tools more than ever. Luckily, there’s always Google Translate, which makes it super-easy to interpret any client communique. Are either of these services enough, though? Not by a long shot. We need more veterinarians and team members to speak these languages fluently if we’re to distribute veterinary med fairly to U.S. pet owners.

2) Hone our hiring tools

This is the subject of an upcoming column, but it deserves a mention here and now because hiring veterinarians and technicians has become a profession-wide emergency.

The decentralized nature of hiring and job hunting is a fundamental need, fueling an industry of third-party headhunters who skim valuable dollars from our practices while giving corporations with dedicated human resource departments a leg-up on hiring—an advantage I would argue isn’t in our profession’s best interest.

Not only does this raise the cost of doing business for everyone, it also makes it harder for veterinarians to find the right fit. The latter issue is undeniably indispensable to job satisfaction and optimum mental health. I wish we paid more attention to helping (especially younger) veterinarians select the practice style best for them by offering better tools to access the wide variety of available positions. As it stands, the default setting seems overwhelmingly corporate when (it goes without saying) this option is not always best for everyone.

3) Bake diversity into our communal mix

For those of us craving more inclusivity within our professional circles, it is clear not much headway is being made on the diversity front. Outreach to these communities to promote engagement with the profession at an early age is nearly non-existent.

While grooming promising STEM students for the veterinary profession (along with their parents and educators) should be a no-brainer, all our diversity efforts seem devoted to wringing our hands over how few applicants of color grace our profession’s doorstep.

We’re starting to make the right noises on this issue, I’ll concede; however, we haven’t yet translated these rudimentary sounds into an actual language communicating our profession’s value to communities of color. This has simply not been a priority for a profession that, likewise, doesn’t seem to recognize value in diversity.

4) Find (smart) solutions for debt relief

Entering the fray among the solutions for increasing the electability of veterinary medicine as an affordable profession comes a simple one: Decrease the number of years required before vet school application eligibility. Instead of four years of undergrad education, as is currently customary, only three would be required.

This is argued as an elegant solution for all stakeholders. I staunchly oppose it. Not only does this limit applicants’ access to a liberal arts education, as I’ve long argued dumbs down our profession, it also lowers the age of entry to programs. In so doing, critical thinking and emotional maturity take a back seat to financial considerations, which lets veterinary schools off the hook for delivering education more cost effectively.

Can we not find ways to cut costs at the veterinary school level? Dedicate more of our lobbying dollars to supporting education instead of industry and agriculture? Why the focus on making veterinary schooling more vocational than educational? (Shortcuts help no one in the long run beyond those with a vested interest in veterinary work instead of the veterinary profession. Just ask a pharmacist to explain how well shortcuts worked out for their profession.)

5) Address affordability of veterinary services

While this is already an animal welfare emergency, affordability is somehow only on the radar of a few progressive veterinary schools, along with a small handful of corporate players who clearly hope they’ll make a killing in the “low cost” world of veterinary medicine.

I have high hopes for some of the major animal welfare-focused organizations who lay claim to the vanguard of this movement, but I worry… Their focus on access to low-cost for everyone, not just the income qualified, means the rest of veterinary medicine will most likely stand in staunch opposition to the competition.

6) Organize independent practices

It’s clear some clients prefer to be served by independently and locally owned practices. Just as some of us favor U.S.-made goods, some veterinary clients actively seek independence in their veterinarians. This is why some “corporate” practices seemingly shroud their ownership structure with a thick veneer of independence. Only by banding together can independent practice owners protect their self-made “brands.” No one else will stand up for us if we don’t do it ourselves.

The issue of transparency in ownership is just one example in which independent practice owners can flex their muscles as a collective. Advancing and protecting our independent brands, reducing the corporate players’ advantages in economies of scale by forming independent-only buying groups, and building other workarounds to limit competitive disadvantages are increasingly necessary tools we will need to survive in this new world order.

As the saying goes, it’s up to us to be the change we want to see in our profession. Each of us should adopt one or more of these issues in the upcoming year as if our profession depended on it—because it really does.

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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