We are a few days into a new decade and while a new decade is full of promise and I’m enjoying looking back and seeing my business changed over the past ten years. Overall, I’m pretty happy where we ended up. The decade started with some rocky patches that challenged us and made me realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought. Some of the mistakes I made in the first couple of years of that decade were big ones that cost us a lot of money. It made me realize that I wasn’t getting any younger and I might not have the opportunity to recover from future mistakes I might make with our business if I don’t make smarter decisions. This led to completing an Executive MBA. Since I graduated our business has been on an upward trajectory and I couldn’t be happier at where we are. While looking back at our own practice, I wondered what other veterinarians thought of the past 10 years. With that in mind, I reached out to my Facebook and LinkedIn networks and asked veterinarians what has changed in the veterinary profession in the past decade.

While waiting for feedback I decided to put together my own list of responses I expected to receive. I thought the main topics would focus on the high suicide rate amongst vets, student debt in the USA, technological advances in equipment and medications and the use of social media to communicate with clients. These seemed to be items in the news and focus of discussion amongst vet friends and colleagues. The responses soon flowed in from friends and colleagues across the world and my responses couldn’t have been further away from the answers I received.

The top 6 responses totalled close to 60% of all responses:

  1. The endless resources of internet allowing everyone to be an expert (17%)
  2. Online bullying of vets through social media (13%)
  3. Shortage of veterinarians (6%)
  4. Corporate aggregations of vet practices (6%)
  5. Telehealth (5%)
  6. New technology and medications (5%)
  7. Personal wellbeing for veterinarians (5%)

The top two responses were flip sides of the same coin in that we started the decade with such hope about the internet, but as the decade progressed veterinary medicine suffered from the unintended consequences of anonymous aggression, disinformation and the relentless pursuit by clients of the answer they want, whether it is correct or not. Many of the comments lamented a decline in respect for veterinarians and science-backed knowledge. This is demonstrated by pet owners turning to Google, pet stores, dog breeders, etc. instead of their veterinarian. Many commented that they see a decline of personal responsibility from pet owners and vets becoming the scapegoat when things don’t go as expected. One emergency veterinarian recounted the common story of a person buying a dog breed with known health issues, yet it is the vet’s fault when treatment is perceived to be outrageously expensive.

Along with declining respect many people mentioned that they fear the pervasiveness of online aggression when pet owners don’t get what they want. The anonymity of social media platforms seems to allow a sense of rage and bullying in a public forum. It seems like we are back to Roman times in the Colosseum where the opinion of a vet is reduced to the thumbs up or down of Facebook likes. If the thumb turns down, then into the pit we go. A vet friend of mine loved through a weeklong barrage of online threats of rape and murder a few years back that was horrifying in its intensity.

With the brutality of social media and questionable internet knowledge, one could try and draw a line to the third most popular change, the shortage of vets and good staff. In my travels, this seems to be a global problem with many causes, so I think it would be simplistic to think that the internet is the main cause for a shortage of vets. But it does beg the question of what role the internet plays in people leaving the profession.

We all know about the corporatization of the profession, so we don’t need to belabour this finding. Most people mainly fear that they won’t be able to compete with the buying power of large practice groups and the salaries they pay new veterinary graduates. Match that with a perceived decline in veterinary care and this subject becomes a bitter pill to swallow.

The concern over telehealth really seemed to come down to how to do it well. Most seem resigned that telehealth is part of our future in a meaningful way, so it was encouraging that people were questioning how to charge for it, or how best to schedule telehealth appointments.

The last two items in the top 60% of responses had a more positive tone. One person brought up some of the recent advances in medical technology and medications leading others to comment that yes there are good things happening in our profession. It seems we focus on the negatives and forget that there were some positive changes over the past 10 years. Along with this was the appreciation that veterinarians and their staff need to take care of themselves better. It is a tough profession and self-care is something we need to do more of, and not try to be selfless warriors of caring all the time.

If I was to summarize my non-scientific small data set of responses it would be the general theme that veterinarians are not as well respected as we once were and that on the internet everyone is an expert and if someone doesn’t agree with something we have said or done WATCH OUT! Everything else pales in comparison to the toxicity that many feel the internet has become.

What does this mean for the coming decade? What will the decade in review look like at the end of 2029? I have some thoughts, but you will have to wait until next week for predictions for the next 10-years!

I would like to thank all of the veterinarians who gave me such thoughtful answers on my own Facebook and LinkedIn pages as well as the Veterinary Practice Owners Advice Line Facebook group. I know very few people on the later platform, and I was humbled by their frank and in-depth thoughts. Once again, I was reminded of the passion and dedication veterinarians have.  We want what is best for our patients, but also each other and our profession. Perhaps the challenges of the past ten years have brought us closer and more supportive of each other. There is a dark side of the internet, but it has also allowed us to know more about each other and to know that we don’t struggle alone, and our successes are celebrated with our community. That is a great thought to keep front and center as we enter the next decade.

One comment
  1. Dr. Pownall this was an excellent commentary thanks for sharing the input that you gathered. Interesting themes to keep in mind as we move into the new decade.

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