Why You Should Get Involved

in Practice Ownership Now

WA Veterinarian Magazine

by Melanie Bowden, WSU Class of 2016

July/Aug 2015

Friday the 8th of May was a big day for me. It was both the last day of lecture-based education for my veterinary degree, and my first day of clinical responsibilities. In three years of hard study I have learned an enormous amount about medicine. However, within hours of hitting the clinic floor it was evident how much changes in “real practice.” Veterinary medicine is a constantly evolving field. New technology and capabilities are developed every day. An enormous amount of energy focuses by necessity on medicine, your patients, clients and staying current. I can understand why so many veterinarians say they lack time for focusing on business.

However, like it or not, all veterinarians are leaders of teams, communicators, and service providers. In these roles, business training is helpful. In a recent study of members of the WSVMA, 52% had obtained supplemental business education since graduation, 76% thought those with business education would be more successful, and 79% thought there should be more business education in the veterinary curriculum. The message is clear, those in practice believe that as a student, or at least early on in your career, the time is now to learn as much as you can about business regardless of your aspirations as an associate or owner.

But what about ownership? Studies are showing that fewer of my graduating peers are interested in ownership. Certainly ownership is not for everyone, but it has many benefits. An obvious one is increased earning potential. While an associate is taking home $80,000 a year and saving for retirement, an owner is making the same or greater income while also building equity in the practice. Whether you are working that day or not, your practice as an asset is making money for you. At retirement, the associate simply has their savings, while the owner has their earnings, benefits and can now also sell the practice and cash in on their equity. According to Simmons, a successful business is often worth more than a million dollars for an average-sized practice. As student debt continues to rise, increased earning potential is not only attractive but for some, also a necessity.

Many of my peers have conceded they can’t be an owner due to their debt load. Part of this stems from the discomfort of carrying large students loans and an equally large business loan. But others erroneously believe that banks simply will not lend to them due to their high student debt. This is a myth that is simply not true. Through my involvement with VBMA, I have had the opportunity to speak with members of Live Oak Bank, Bank of America and others about loan options for recent graduates. They recognize that veterinarians are a great investment. Provided that you have enough experience (usually minimum of two to three years in practice), and a good business plan, you can get the funds you need to start a business.

Other benefits of ownership include increased control over one’s professional life, the standard of medicine practiced, and customer service provided. It is unlikely that any two veterinarians have the same definition of “Standard of Care.” This can be frustrating for associates that disagree with employers. It may also be frustrating for associates that have a different vision of growth and added services than the owner. The owner may value an associate’s suggestion of adding dental radiography, but decide not to invest because they feel growing their rehabilitation and physical therapy offerings is a better niche. In the end, the owner ultimately controls the vision and growth for the practice long-term. They solely have the ability to decide if a new technology should be added to the practice, practice hours should be modified, or customer requests be met.

Great satisfaction is also found in building a community and helping others grow through your business efforts. Owners create employment and help employee’s families succeed. It is a benefit that many of the veterinarians I have come to know value about their experience as owners. For them, creating a positive work culture, employee fulfillment and success in the work place builds a sense of pride beyond the financial success of the business. In successful practices, employees often refer to each other as a family.

Another thought to consider is the current veterinary market. We hear about the average two-doctor practice a lot these days. In this scenario, half of all veterinarians would have to be owners. However, a study of veterinary practices by AAHA in 2013 found 43% of all small ani-mal practices were single doctor practices and 25% were two-doctor practices, suggesting of the veterinarians entering clinical practice, greater than half of them will be owners eventually. It is likely that many of my peers will end up as owners based on this statistic alone. A huge driver of one-doctor practices is geographical restriction based on family needs, spousal employment, or lifestyle choices. For many veterinarians, the only option may be to open your own clinic. This could be either because one is not currently available for purchase, or the town cannot support a two-doctor practice.

I have to admit that I am biased to business ownership. A prominent reason for entering this field was the entrepreneurial nature of veterinary medicine. Ownership is higher risk, but for many owners also higher reward financially and emotionally. For these reasons, even though you may not currently see yourself as a veterinary-owner, it is still beneficial to invest in your business education early on. If you are in school, I encourage you to look at elective options and VBMA. If you are out in practice, there are lots of great continuing education modules you can do online or at conferences. You never know where your career will take you or what opportunities you will have. Education is an investment in possibility. You may be pleasantly surprised by the doors it opens for you.

Melanie Bowden

Melanie Bowden is a: WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, DVM candidate 2016; WSU Veterinary Business Management Associated President 2014; International Regional Leader 2014; Honors Graduate 2015.

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

— Hugh Laurie