I just got a letter from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine stating it was time for my classes’ 35th reunion. Wow, it’s hard to believe it has been that long. I was lying in bed later thinking about all those years. I began to think how much my profession and the area I have practiced in all those years has changed.
When I graduated, I could have gone anywhere in the county to practice, but I chose to stay in Coffee County. I went to work for the vet I had done part-time work grunt work for years. He knew and trusted me well so he threw me in the fire head first. He had the busiest practice in the area. We both did farm and small animal (pet) medicine. I would work 60-70 hours a week sometimes making only 2-3 dollars and hour. Not bad for a Dr’s degree, ha ha. We mixed things up, but 8-10 hours a day was spent working cattle and horses. The other half was spent doing small animal work in the clinic. That meant a lot off cowboy work such as roping and chasing. Over the years I have been run over, kicked, stomped, head butted, mashed, thrown in the air, and pinned many, many times. Being between 25 and 50 years old, I kept getting up. I got really good at lassoing and nursing my own injuries. He had me do all or most of the small animal surgeries as he preferred being out of the clinic and was the boss. After 6 months of working, I got down to my old high school football playing weight of 110 lb. Now football practice in the 70’s was a lot different that it is today. Full speed all the time, tortuous running after practice with no water allowed. I thought that and working on our farm would be the hardest thing I would ever do, but none of it compared to how hard I worked as a vet.
My mother, concerned about me asked, “Why don’t you slow down? I thought you went to college 8 years so you wouldn’t have to do hard, dirty, physical labor anymore?” Well, I didn’t slow down. After a couple of years, I started my own practice in Tullahoma and continued doing both small and large animal medicine for 25 more years. Finally, after all the injuries caught up with me and I got married, I decided to quit doing farm animals. My wife wouldn’t tolerate me being out til 9-10 o’clock every night anyway. Plus, I wanted to spend more time with my son. Also, the farmers in Coffee County started planting telephone poles instead of crops, the dairies disappeared, the horse business here went belly up, and no one had hogs anymore. So, it seemed like a good time. I concentrate now on small animal medicine which I always enjoyed the most anyway. I stay busy as ever but not I get to go home at a decent hour.
Pet medicine has really boomed the last 30 years as owners strive to take care fo them better, as most have become part of the family. When I first started most of the small animal work I did was injured and sick pets. I used to pin or plate 3-4 legs a week until the city leash laws came into play and got the dogs out of the road. Today most vets focus on preventative care. We still see disasters but not as many.
The biggest change since I graduated has been the technological advancements, tons of new meds and better in house diagnostics. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating compared to when I first started. The most delightful thing is the new flea and tick meds that actually work. Regretfully, the cost of practicing quality medicine has sky rocketed. If someone had told me 35 years ago that I would be paying more for a box of flea medicine than I charge to do elective surgeries like spays and neuters I would have told them they were crazy. Yet, it is true. They tell us to keep up with medical inflation, it costs almost 20% more each year to keep a practice going. I don’t see raising fees 20% a year. Despite the costs, vets in this area keep their prices lower the over 95% of the rest of the US. People in Tullahoma really are spoiled when it comes to the cost of vet med. Still I get fussed and cussed at almost every day. I guess if you gave it away someone would complain about the price. On average it is 1/50th of the cost of human medicine and our costs are the same or more. I go to continuing education seminars every year. I get to talking to other vets all over the country about fees and they ask me how I make a living charging such low prices? “Where on earth do you practice?” they ask. I tell them and they say, “oh, well I wouldn’t want to live there.” I smile and tell them I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Another big change in our profession is the alarming increase in veterinary suicides. Especially the younger female graduates. This caught me by complete surprise as psychologists work to figure out why. Officials are so concerned, we are now required to complete 2 hours a year of psychological continuing education. We sit and listen to the psychologists and they ask my generation what we think the cause is. Most mention the long hours, the low pay, high stress of euthanasia, the tremendous student loan debt we now have, etc. I stood up and mentioned how much it hurts when a client tells you, “If you really loved animals you would do it for free.” I thought I had been the only vet ever told that but everyone there had heard the same thing one time or another. And to think all those hours I’ve laid in bed agonizing over that crazy woman who once told me that. I never contemplated suicide though. I guess it really hurts the younger generation vets when someone tells them that. I think my generation is just tougher of course. Anyway, I go every year and sit and listen to the psychological gobbledekook.
So be extra nice to your veterinarian. Remember, people who work in our field are not money grubbing and in it for the money. If I wanted the money, I could have gone to any medical school in the country and became a physician and retired years ago. Remember, we have a huge compassion for animals and their families. We don’t just play with puppies and kittens all day. It is hard and stressful work. It is emotional every day. We deal with life and death on a daily basis Most vets and their help go home mentally and physically exhausted every night. So, give your vet a hug every time you see him or her. You have no idea how much it means to us!