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Sunday, April 15, 2012

50 Secrets? Not So Much.

The latest issue of Reader's Digest (May 2012) has a big cover story.  "50 Secrets Your Vet Won't Tell You."  Of course this is a very provocative title, especially for someone in the veterinary profession.  I was curious to find out what sort of secrets me and my colleagues are holding back from telling our clients.  My wife picked up a copy at the grocery store and I read through it today.

What a let-down.  Really, there are no great "secrets" in the article, and there isn't anything I and other veterinary bloggers haven't been saying for years.  Most of the so-called secrets are things I regularly talk to my clients about.  All of the comments are based on interviews with 18 veterinarians and vet techs. Let's look at a few of them....

1.  "People always ask, 'How handle pit bulls and rottweilers and big German shepherds?' The truth is, the dogs that scare me most are the little Chihuahuas.  They're much more likely to bite."
Geez, I tell a client something along these lines almost every day.

7.  "Here's a pet peeve:  owners who don't want to pay for diagnostic tests but then cop an attitude because you don't know what's wrong with the animal.  Since you wouldn't let me do the blood work or X-rays, how the heck do you expect me to know?"
How many times have I blogged about this exact issue?  And this is supposed to be a "secret"?

22.  "I hate to break it to you, but your $2000 designer dog is a mutt.  Puppy stores and breeders have created these cute names like Morkipoos and Puggles, and now people are paying $2000 for a dog they couldn't give away at the pound 10 years ago.  Whoever started the trend is a marketing genius."
Yeah, I've talked about this numerous times to clients, staff, and on this blog.  Secret?  Not so much.

50.  "If you live in a one-bedroom apartment with no patio and minimal space, and you're gone ten hours a day at your job, a 100-pound Great Dane may not be the best choice for you.  Maybe start with a goldfish?"
Well, DUH!

And the whole article is pretty much like this.  The huge majority of the points are no secret at all and are things commonly communicated by vets and easily found on the internet.  However, there are a few of the items that I do have a bit of a beef about and want to discuss.

20.  "Your veterinarian may not have gotten into vet school!  Vets who can't get into the traditional U.S. veterinary programs due to bad grades and poor test scores often go to for-profit schools in the Caribbean, where, basically, if you can pay the tuition you get in."
Wow!  Did the editor not do any fact-checking before letting these comments go to print?  This statement was made by "a vet in California".  While the other quotes had a specific name, several only had this rather anonymous author.  I'm sure that the students and graduates of the Caribbean veterinary schools (specifically Ross and St. George's) would take great offense to such words.  First, there are private, for-profit universities in the US, and several have vet schools.  Since when are "profit" and "good education" mutually exclusive?  Second, there are certainly admission standards at those schools and people don't get in simply because they have enough money.  Saying so is a gross misrepresentation of what goes on.  The students at these schools also normally do senior clinical rotations in US veterinary colleges, getting experience along with "normal" vet students.  Lastly, there is a very strict process for getting a veterinary license in the US.  If you graduate from a non-US school (or from some of the few foreign schools authorized by the AVMA) you must take a rigorous set of tests that I honestly wonder if I'd be able to pass.  To even take the exams you must have graduated from a recognized veterinary program.  So saying that "your veterinarian may not have gotten into vet school!" is completely and utterly wrong!  Anyone licensed to practice in the US must have gone through equivalent training and testing, regardless of where they went to school, and are equally as qualified.  I've known several vets from the Caribbean schools and I can't tell their veterinary skills are any different than those graduated from US schools.

27.  "After their kitten vaccinations, indoor cats don't really need to be vaccinated.  They're not going to get rabies sitting in the house.  Vaccines have the potential to create a lot of harm for cats, including possible tumors at the vaccine site." 
First, we need to do a little critical thinking and look at the small type identifying the quote's author...."Jim Elliot, DVM, owner of Holistic Vet in New York and New Jersey."  Do you think a holistic vet would be against vaccines?  Yep!  Though there are some risks with vaccines, they are overwhelmingly safe.  There are a few other things to consider.  In every US state the rabies vaccine is required by law, regardless of your cat's living status.  If your cat isn't vaccinated and then bites someone you can be fined and the cat can be quarantined.  This does happen....a couple of years ago one of my staff was bit by a cat who wasn't vaccinated and animal control came to take the cat and put it in quarantine.  That would have been avoided if the cat had been previously vaccinated.  I also know very few cats who have never escaped outside at some point in their long lives.  This point should have been eliminated as opinion instead of being presented as fact.  Again, poor editorial oversight.

32.  "The vets who work for most coporate-owned vet hospitals are being paid monthly bonus checks based on how much money they bring in from clients.  So if it seems like you are paying more at one of these hospitals, you likely are."  
I know the processes of the two largest US veterinary corporations, VCA and Banfield, and this is a misrepresentation.  It also ignores the fact that most vets in the US use a production-based salary system.  This method is commonly called "pro-sal", and is currently recommended by most veterinary consultants.  The system works as follows:  a vet is paid a small base salary and then a percentage of the production they personally bring in.  Though this may seem like a commission system, it actually stems from the history of vets making more money than they bring in.  If you're getting paid $80,000 per year you should be bringing in enough revenue to at least pay for yourself.  Some vets don't, either by not seeing enough patients or not charging appropriately.  If the practice owner is paying the vet more than they're bringing in, the owner is losing money.  A base salary ensures at least a minimal salary (though usually not liveable by itself) and the production encourages the vet to practice good medicine and good business.  In some situations in private practices vets are paid entirely on production!  I've never known a corporate practice to do that.  I can also tell you from personal experience and first-hand knowledge that corporate practices (at least VCA and Banfield....I can't speak for the smaller ones) aren't usually more expensive, and in fact deliberately try to price themselves in the middle of the market.

I know that Reader's Digest isn't exactly hard-hitting journalism.  However, this is a very poor article.  First, it's misleading by insinuating that there are big secrets vets keep from their clients, when it's actually common knowledge they're printing.  Second, there are some big fact-checking mistakes that a competent editor should have caught, as I've pointed out above.  Rather than simply taking the word of the vets and techs, the magazine should have double-checked the truth of anything they printed.  If they had instead done an article on behind-the-scenes comments and insights into life as a vet, I wouldn't have had as much of a problem.

But then, if you want those sorts of things, you have this very blog!