“Price is only a concern in the absence of value” – I saw this pinned to the wall in a practice I visited, and to a large extent believe it to be true. But what is value?
Take inanimate objects: their value to us is not only in their functionality, but also in their meaning to us. As an example, my extensive collection of coffee mugs is a source of friction in our household.
To my wife, they are ugly, battered, chipped and take up space in a cupboard that could be taken up by prettier or more elegant crockery. To me they contain a means to support consciousness, but also a way of reflecting my mood. Some are particularly large, some smaller than normal, many have designs on them (I think I pick a mug as much for its appearance as for its ability to hold coffee).
There is also meaning to me in the memories they invoke. Believe it or not, I still have and use mugs I owned way back at vet school, many of which saw me through a number of revision all-nighters. The one in front of me now I associate with one particularly epic two-day session on pelvic anatomy.
When my other half talks of a “mug cull”, I don’t think she realises she is talking about destroying not just crockery, but links to memories and a past I can never go back to.
While some of our clients have an exclusively monetary relationship with their animals, most have relationships and memories relating to them. Knowing that, and owning our own animals, is why a vet will never regard a patient as “just a cat” or whatever – and therein lies our value to the client.
Value in our work isn’t immediately obvious to everyone we deal with. What will a blood test mean to a patient? What are the relative values of radiography versus ultrasonography or endoscopy for a vomiting dog?
We deal with people every day who understand differing levels of those questions, and the art in our job is in explaining it without being patronising or alienating them, or even over-simplifying and trivialising our expertise.
Value is also something we hold about ourselves. We do our job day in, day out and take an awful lot of our knowledge and skill for granted. Ultimately, that is expressed in the fees we charge so the practice can keep going. So, when producing a plan and an estimate for a case, it can be tempting to cut corners, not charge for everything, or discount in other ways, but not only is this a betrayal of the practice, it is a betrayal of our own self-worth and self esteem.