Tackling A Taboo

My mother always told me there were three subjects worth omitting from any polite conversation: politics, religion and money. My mother may be right on a great many subjects, but this is one I take exception with. On second thought, given my penchant for writing about these topics, perhaps she’s right … I’m not polite.

In private veterinary circles it’s still not kosher to talk in terms of cash. But when we look at the big animal health picture, it’s up there on the big screen. In fact, as a profession, we love talking money. But we still haven’t gotten over the taboo of speaking about it in personal terms—hypocritically, I sometimes think. 

With the economy still in freefall and lots of jobs still on the chopping block, I thought it might be appropriate to expound on this topic, knowing that doing so in more micro terms might incite your interest, if not your wrath.

Let’s be honest, humans are motivated by the love of money. Those who claim not to be are typically living comfortably, well beyond the paycheck-to-paycheck existence I’ve somehow fallen prey to, despite my stellar education (which most of you share with me).

Sure, I can cry about my still-hefty student loans, single-income single motherhood, hugely disproportionate health care expenses (thankfully in the past) and poor financial choices (reference: shopping pathology), but we’ve all got our crosses to bear.

The glimmer of positive news is now that the economy has tanked, I know I’m no longer alone. In fact, just as I’m warming up to the sweet mysteries of debt management, reeling in my spending hand over fist and finally bashing my South Florida-style mortgage into submission, the rest of the world is waking up to the same horrors that have dogged my last decade.

I know this for sure because my blog posts on Dolittler.com have generated a surprising volume of me-too messages from veterinarians whenever I’ve written about money on a micro level. And it’s not just the recent grads with mountains of debt to shoulder; it’s also the “Omigod-where-did-my-life-go-wrong?” veterinarians like me who refinanced their loans at a pittance back when the getting was good.

We’re thinking:

  • Why didn’t I apply for that surgical residency?
  • I should’ve bought a practice.
  • Why didn’t I put money away when I could have?
  • Why didn’t I marry that hedge-fund manager ex-boyfriend?
  • What was I thinking when I bought a BMW I couldn’t afford just three years out of vet school?

I’ve heard it all. I’ve been there, too. Damned if I didn’t wreck that Beemer three months into its infancy. And that ex-boyfriend? Still filthy rich and single. Hmmm.

Careers often move disproportionately slowly relative to our life spans. And the career trajectory of the average modern veterinarian is not exempt from the financial woes that accompany this truism.

It’s no use covetously eyeing the Maserati in the specialty hospital’s parking lot or checking the back of your vet school’s alumni magazine to see who can afford the “Quantum Level” contribution. None of it is worthwhile, not while I can still convince myself that the pay might be great, but for me, at least, the hours would suck.

Ultimately, the point is this: Veterinarians have it great when we compare the rest of the economy’s casualties to our own. The vast majority of us have well-paying jobs. Our heads are rarely under the shadow of the hatchet. And we enjoy a tremendous amount of respect, autonomy and job satisfaction relative to most.

In the words of a great philosopher: “You can’t always get what you want … you get what you need.” Granted, he was probably pretty stoned at the time and I promise you he wasn’t hurting for cash, but there you have it.

Though our incomes may suffer in the coming months or years, the end result is almost assured: The wider animal market is still on the upswing. Our clients are increasingly clamoring for better care. We have great jobs.

There’s no real need to stress or suffer or whine. Indeed, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, especially if you consider that one day all our needs will likely be met, be it through politics, religion or money. <HOME>

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, is a small-animal practitioner in Miami and a passionate blogger at www.dolittler.com. With insightful and witty commentary on her day-to-day experiences, she writes on everything from medical and ethical issues to balancing personal time and work. She earned her veterinary degree in 1995 and her business degree from Wharton in 1997.


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