Friday, June 5, 2015

Why do we value vets?

The star of our video project was not only the coolest dude on the planet, he was also the nicest. He even washed his bike especially for the shoot and handed out mandarins to the cast and crew.
A few weeks ago I posted a little request on social media which perplexed a few people. It basically said I needed a local, friendly, outgoing chicken and a large man, “preferably 50+ and a bit gruff…”

I can finally explain what I was up to. Here it goes. For all the bills clients pay, veterinarians – by which I guess I mean employed veterinarians – tend to be underpaid. Some are indeed paid very well, but many are paid very poorly. In the hopes of doing something positive about this the Australian Veterinary Association launched a competition. It was based roughly on “The Pitch” segment of TV’s “The Gruen Transfer” where ad companies compete to sell the unsellable.

We had to sell this: pay vets what they’re worth. I’ve never done anything like this and neither had friend, colleague and exotics veterinarian Dr Robert Johnson. To be honest we scratched our heads for a long time.

Because it’s a tough one, frankly. We’re a profession, not an industry. Yet at the same time plenty of people accrue massive student debt but then leave after three, five or ten years because unless they buy and run a profitable practice it’s often a very hard way to make a living.

But here’s the rub. According to a recent workforcereport, “Veterinary practice under current market conditions is becoming less financially viable” (Porritt, 2013).

Yup. Like it or not, the face of practice is going to change. Corporatisation is almost inevitable, because small clinics just can’t meet the costs of staffing, overheads, keeping up with new technology and medications and provide the expected standard of care. Other challenges to the viability of practice are an oversupply of veterinary graduates, increased competition, reduction in the number of companion animals, reduced demand for veterinary services, high overheads for equipment and loss of monopoly on drug supplies. The internet and pet shops are selling drugs that vet clinics once did.

But the project raised a number of questions: what are vets worth? Are they all not being paid that? Why not? Who (e.g. other professions?) is being paid what they’re worth? What do people think vets are worth?

An article published in this month’s Daily Telegraph found that while vets are paid an average of $61,204 per annum ($1177/week), they compare poorly to truckies ($73K or $1417/wk), vehicle body builder & trimmers ($73,944  or $1422/wk), automotive electricians ($91,572  or $1761/wk), electrical trades distributors ($100,932 or $1941/wk), structural steel construction workers ($113,776 or $2188/wk), and crane, hoist & lift operators ($113,776 or $2188/wk).

So just asking for cashola isn’t the answer. We thought about lots of ideas for ads…from a Joni-Mitchell-“you-don’t-know-what-you-got-til-its-gone” reimagining of the world as one without vets, to a more humorous look at the things vets do that others can’t or don’t want to do (clip the toenails of an aggressive, cyanoticpug, anyone?).

We decided to focus on the positive. What is it that real people value in vets, and how could we convey this in a video for the internet or the big screen with real people and real patients.

Basically this involved Robert and myself directing a short film, defying that old saying that one should “never work with children or animals”. Due to work committments we had a single day to film and relied completely on volunteers (which raised the obvious question, "what's a volunteer worth?" - they're weight in gold of course. But we did provide lunch). I only wish we’d made a movie out the outtakes.

(If this does not play, click here).

We entered our video in the AVA's member forum and I'm proud to report that - against some stiff and very creative competition - we won.


Hansen J (2015) Crying paw for vet fee plea. Daily Telegraph Accessed May 22, May 2015.

Pike B (2015) The prize jobs that could earn you a fortune.  Daily Telegraph Accessed May 22, 2015.

Porritt D (2013) Australian veterinary workforce review report. Australian Veterinary Association. Accessed May 16, 2015.