The worth of my work

I am so pissed, I’m considering breaking the ‘no swearing’ rule I set for myself in this blog. This person I had to deal with this past twelve hours really infuriated me, to the point where I had to rewrite my text messages three times to not tell the other person to (pardon my French) go fuck himself.

First, some back story.

I started working soon after graduation, and I’ve been working since then, doing home visits and filling in for the regular doctors at clinics from time to time. I haven’t tried for a permanent job because my first commitment was to my postgraduate course. Due to my studies, I was (still am) unable to give the minimim one year commitment to any clinic or hospital, and I wasn’t going to be hired full-time anywhere. Still, when I was fresh out of college, one of my seniors was kind enough to let me intern without pay at their clinic for the experience, and during that internship, I picked up skills to push myself out into the professional realm.

I had a two week break in between, during the incident that occurred at my postgrad college, but I’ve resumed working again after I came back home. I’ve been taking it easier than before – attending online lectures, trying out new hobbies and relaxing at home – but I still make a decent amount per week, through home visits.

Apart from home visits, I also regularly consult at a clinic near my house. I started there a month after I graduated, as a stand-in while the regular doctor was away, and while the initial payment was low, I told the owner that I will ask for a higher pay next time. It didn’t seem to put him off, because he called me multiple times afterwards, and was completely agreeable to my request for increased payment for my work. The work environment was excellent since day one, and I felt very at-home working with the owner (a non-vet) and his employees. The regulars were lovely people, and almost everyone who came to the clinic was friendly and amenable to the advice and treatment they received. When he paid me for my last consult at his clinic, he increased my per-day payment by 33% – an increase I hadn’t asked for or anticipated, and one that left me surprised and dazed for a couple of days after.

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to fill in for a regular doctor at a clinic where they had worked earlier. Since I hadn’t had anything planned for that period, I agreed. I also felt like it’d be a good experience to work at a clinic in a part of town I’d never been to, since it was far away from my house, and not within the distance I did my home visits in. It seemed like a good idea, that is, until I spoke to the owner.

The owner (a vet very senior to me) was very kind over call, and offered to arrange for accommodation in case I found it difficult to go back home, due to the 9-hour long shift and the distance between the clinic and my house. They seemed very proactive, and while the call did cover everything, it didn’t cover payment, which was very off-putting. Later, when I did initiate the conversation about payment, I was in for a rude shock.

The payment for such a long shift was abysmally low, and their reasons for such low payment were because I was temporary, their clinic was starting out, and that’s how much they paid everyone. When I told them that I couldn’t work such long hours for such low payment, and made my lowest possible offer, they reiterated their previous points very rudely, and I found it really hard to be polite throughout the conversation. Finally, when I declined the offer, they told me they’d increase my pay, in a condescending manner – their exact words being ‘I hope we earn that much income to be able to pay you what you’re asking for’. I thanked them, and told them I’d not be taking them up on their offer, because of our difference in opinions. The conversation didn’t end there – I got called and interrogated later, and while I didn’t reveal my true reasons, I maintained that I wouldn’t be working for them at their clinic.

Which brings me to what pissed me off the most.

Veterinarians, in my country, are working for peanuts. The remuneration for the kind of work being put in is garbage for most vets, and money in the industry exists in few niches – private pet practice in large cities, stud farms and turf clubs within the equine industry, large poultry and dairy farms, and for government appointed vets who have climbed up the ladder. And when veterinarians accept such shitty payment systems from employers – be it other vets or non-vets – it is not only unfair to them, but it hurts the profession as well.

One of the reasons, I feel, is that a lot of the much older vets I know have this inferiority complex towards doctors practicing human medicine. It’s extremely evident when they tell us juniors to ‘not feel inferior to human doctors‘ (by that they mean doctors practicing human medicine – veterinarians aren’t aliens – but that’s just how they put it across).

These kind of thoughts start much earlier than vet school – they start when individuals who haven’t gotten into Human Medicine join Veterinary Sciences, amongst other professions, in order to get the prefix ‘Dr’ before their name – because, priorities. And that inferiority complex becomes well established over the years of school and training, due to every single batch of seniors being oversaturated by unmotivated, unpassionate individuals who couldn’t care less about their subject or their patients.

And this inferiority shows up in the work space – people I know are willing to go for jobs that pays them double of the minimum wages in my city, people are willing to work at clinics where their paycheck reaches them late by a few months. The starting salary of a freshly graduated vet is pretty minimal, but there are employers willing to increase it, based on the kind of work you do.

We, as veterinarians, honestly deserve better than what we’re asking for. I don’t advocate making the client pay through their nose, but I do believe that by developing ourselves as professionals, we should be in a position to ask for a justifiable remuneration for our services.

Communicate effectively. Gain knowledge. Acquire new skills. Increase your repertoire of tools and tricks. Brush up on your skills. Get better with each case, with each day. And, most importantly, know your worth.

This could be a thing in a lot of other professions, but I wouldn’t know, since this is my first profession. A lot of my seniors get very comfortable in the jobs they’re in, even as they complain about the injustices they face all the time. When I’ve asked them why don’t they search for another job, their replies vary, but most of it centres around ‘Because I won’t get this kind of freedom if I work elsewhere‘ – be it their timings, or their freedom to follow their own lines of treatment, or familiarity with the people they work with. Or it could be the uncertainty that comes with a new job, the discomfort of demanding a higher pay, or giving up the small comforts they’d come to enjoy.

Is money the be all and end all of the profession, then? While I personally haven’t faced this, I know a lot of vets get shamed or criticised for charging their clients for the services rendered, and a lot of clients demand treatment for free or discounted price ‘because it’s an animal, I’m doing this to help the animal out‘ or ‘If you’re really an animal lover, how can you charge me like this?’ or ‘How can you charge me after my pet has gotten worse/passed away?‘ Quite honestly, this is a whole other conversation for some other day, but what I’d like to say for now is this – Veterinarians are professionals, and we render services, just like any other service/skill based profession. Having a pet is, amongst other commitments, a financial commitment, and clients asking for discounted/free services is very irresponsible, because they wouldn’t want a vet to do half the treatment or a ‘discounted’ treatment.

Money might not be the be-all-end-all for a vet, but a steady, sufficient income makes it a lot easier to work without worrying about stuff that’s happening in our lives – the next paycheck, paying bills, making rent, self-sustenance. I’m lucky I don’t have to currently worry about these things, and I know how lucky I am. A lot of my seniors and colleagues do have to keep these things in mind, and requests and demands like these hurt them in more ways than one. As noble as it is, treating animals as a veterinarian is still a profession, and as a profession, it still puts the bread and butter on the table for those who practice it.

As a profession, and as a community, I sincerely hope that we can all grow to be our professional best, in every way possible. Our animals need us, our animal-parents need us, but we need each other more than ever. I say this to myself, and to other vets, because I feel like we all need to hear this sometimes.

Grow to the point where you respect yourself as a professional, and never settle for less than what you’re worth. You owe yourself, and your profession, that much.

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