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Equine April 2009 (Vol 4, No 3)

Editorial — Keeping PACE: Positive Attitude Changes Everything

by P.O. Eric Mueller, DVM, PhD, DACVS

    If you're like me, you're getting tired of negative news regarding the economy. It's amazing how many different business news analysts are required to tell us the economy is in a downturn with little evidence of recovery in the near future. In the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at The University of Georgia, we have our own economic indicator called the Colic Surgery Standard and Poor Index (CSSPI). During economic growth and prosperity, for every 10 horses admitted to the hospital requiring surgery to correct a gastrointestinal lesion, nine have surgery (CSSPI = 0.9 or 90%). During economic downturns, five or six of every 10 horses have surgery (CSSPI = 0.5 to 0.6 or 50% to 60%). In this current downturn, it's interesting that the number of horses admitted to our hospital for colic has not declined. It appears that owners are willing to have their horses evaluated and treated medically but aren't willing to incur the additional expense of surgery ($4000 to $6000). I've learned from colleagues across the country that this pattern is fairly representative of most academic and private veterinary referral institutions. Our CSSPI will likely remain low for the coming months.

    I'm sure that as you make your calls, many horse owners mention the depressed economy. This is where we can make a difference. There are several ways we can do our part to help turn around the economy. The first is our attitude. Some veterinarians can be pessimistic about the benefits of their career choice. How many times have you heard a veterinarian say the following to a potential veterinary student? "Have you thought about human medicine? You will make more money and have more time to yourself." As a student, I considered a career in human medicine, but after a few summers working in a human hospital, I realized that most patients were cranky and the physicians constantly grumbled about the intricacies of insurance claims and copayments ... not the most pleasant working environment. Therefore, more than 20 years ago, I chose a career in veterinary medicine, and I've never regretted it. I'll bet if you honestly evaluate your lifestyle, accomplishments, and compensation, you'll agree that you also made the right decision. As I learned from my children's first-grade teacher, Mrs. Telefson, PACE: positive attitude changes everything. So whether you're talking to a prospective veterinary student in your truck while making calls or to a client, try to emphasize the positive aspects of your career and current events.

    The most important aspect of any service-based business is service itself. In times of economic difficulty, clients spend money on goods and services that are valuable to them and reduce or eliminate expenses they consider less valuable. A common thread among veterinary practices that prosper during economic downturns is particular attention to exemplary client service by doctors and staff. I often reiterate to veterinary students and house officers the following pillar of client service: although clients can be demanding and occasionally irrational, they are always right (as long as fulfilling their requests does not compromise your moral principles), so "kill them" with kindness and service.

    When the economy begins to recover, it will likely not be the direct result of any one stimulus package or bailout. Recovery will happen when individuals with money to spend on goods and services have the confidence to spend it. History tells us that the economy and financial markets will bounce back. We just don't know when. But it seems obvious that we'll be waiting a long time if we do nothing and just wait for things to improve. Stimulus packages may help, but we must have a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook for such packages to have significant long-term effects. Therefore, those who can invest in goods and services should do so now. This may mean hiring an additional technician, receptionist, or animal handler. If you've been thinking about purchasing new equipment, such as a digital radiography unit, ultrasonography machine, or endoscope, now is the time to do it. Interest rates are low, financing plans flexible, and prices favorable. If you've been considering renovating or expanding your clinic or building or buying a new hospital, now is the time to start. Service businesses such as veterinary medicine are perceived favorably by lending institutions, building material and labor costs are at 5-year lows, and interest rates for qualified customers are extremely competitive. If all of us do our part to promote and maintain a positive outlook, invest in our future, and resist temptation to thoughtlessly follow the media's negativity, we can at least feel good about our efforts and assist in jumpstarting the recovery.

    Here's some more good news: an informal survey of regional equine practices that regularly refer cases to our hospital indicates that most practices are as busy as ever. Sure, they had the usual decrease in calls in the late fall and early winter, but with spring here, business is on the upswing. Some veterinarians indicate that practice growth may not have been as robust in 2008 as in previous years, but it didn't decline. I hope your practice is following a similar positive trend. We veterinarians are fortunate that we'll always be gainfully employed unless we choose otherwise. So the next time someone dwells on the economic downturn, be grateful for all the good things in your life and remember Mrs. Telefson's encouraging words: "PACE: positive attitude changes everything."

    NEXT: Imaging is Believing — Stifle Ultrasonography: A Case Study