Veterinarian's recipe for stone soup serves up aid, cooperation

Pay-it-forward idea fosters collegiality within profession

November 30, 2010 (published)
By Phyllis DeGioia

A distraught veterinarian had been cut off by her suppliers for non-payment, business dropped 35 percent and she owed $30,000 on clinic equipment.

With just $239 in her business checking account and $15 in her personal one, the veterinarian who hadn't cut herself a paycheck in four months aired her troubles on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession. Reaching out to colleagues, she reported never having been so close to “practice apocalypse” and was looking for ideas to improve her situation.

Her plea for help attracted a lively response, seeding a concept that revolves around veterinarians sharing supplies during times of crisis or need — one practitioner helping another in the throes of financial difficulty. The idea came to Dr. Nathan Scholten of Hopi Animal Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., as he contemplated the economic troubles facing many in the profession.

His concept revolves around veterinarians who have extra supplies sending them free-of-charge to colleagues who express a need for them. The payback to the donor is the ability to help others in the same profession and to expect help from the same group of people should it ever be needed.

Scholten floated the idea to VIN members last month in a message board thread, writing: “We have all read posts from vets whose practices are in dire straits. They can't get help from vendors, lenders, etc. Well, I am proposing a Stone Soup for vets. Even now we all have a little extra. Extra vaccines, extra bandage material, a few packs of extra suture...whatever. While a little from one may not be much, a little bit from a whole bunch of us could mean the difference between staying open and shutting the doors from lack of supplies.

"So I am putting my mouth where my money is. For those of you that are in dire straits… if you need something let me know, and I will try and help you out,” he added.

Stone soup is a folk story about a hungry stranger who cooks up a tasty soup by tricking villagers into contributing whatever ingredients they can spare. Its moral: Cooperation and contributions by individuals can add up to benefit a community.

Scholten understands how tough business can be these days, alluding to his own slow work schedule.

“I have more time on my hands than I wanted,” he acknowledged.

He envisions an informal, simple program that starts with a new folder on a VIN message board. The way it might work: Veterinarians in need would post their requests, including quantity. Veterinarians reading the postings, in turn, would determine if they could contribute. Those able to meet a need would post their response to avoid duplication. The donor would pay for shipping.

To requestors who post their names and addresses, respondents would send donations to them directly. For those who wish their requests to be anonymous, they would contact Scholten privately, and he would post the request and handle the subsequent transaction. However, people requesting supplies would be encouraged to leave their name and contact information to speed the process.

“The requesting veterinarian also must agree to help in the future by sending what they can to someone,” Scholten said.

Stone soup is expected to go live on VIN in December, at Scholten’s initiative and discretion. While the idea is at a conceptual stage, Scholten hopes it will soon become a viable method for helping others. He’s already making lists of people who have offered to help and is considering the ground rules of the program.

“My favorite phrase is one I learned from my kids,” Scholten said in an interview with the VIN News Service. “You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit. You can’t say ‘I want a certain Merial medicine lot number XX’ — you can’t get real particular, you’re not ordering from a store. If you want rabies vaccine, you use what people are willing to give you.

“What I don’t need I’d be willing to pull off my shelf,” Scholten added. “A little goes a long way. For example, if someone needs a $6 suture that costs $1 to ship, that’s only $7 for me, but if several people send sutures it adds up to real revenue for a recipient.”

The idea's success depends on the participants being willing to admit they are in need and on donors following through on their offers to supply aid.

VIN members who read Scholten's proposal responded enthusiastically. Dr. Ebalinna Vaughn, practicing in Warrenton, Va., has already offered to make contributions. She reports having extra Advantage and Promeris on hand.

“I just want to help another veterinarian,” Vaughn said in an interview. “Everyone is hitting us up for things right now, but this is what I’d rather do. Any little bit that everyone can do will make a much bigger difference.”

Scholten shares those sentiments.

“This is not a hand out,” he wrote to colleagues in the VIN discussion. “This is one vet helping another colleague. Someday I may need your help as well."

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