10 things to loveand hateabout owning a veterinary practice


Are you an "owner type"? Find out right here. Here's what I struggle with and what I truly enjoy about owning a veterinary hospital.

I've worked as an associate, and I've also owned my own practice since 1998. It has always been my own “dog and pony” show, only these days it's a “dog and kitty” show. Applebrook Animal Hospital and I are soulmates. I've seen her through times when I was the only employee and she has seen me through times when I was confined to a wheelchair. But like every soulmate, there are things I love about her, and things I hate.

If you own now or are thinking about it for the future, here are my thoughts. Let's get the Negative Nelly stuff out of the way first. Here are the five things I hate the most about owning a veterinary hospital:

(Illiustration Getty Images)5 reasons practice ownership doesn't give you what you want

I hate that it's all me, all day. When an associate leaves or an employee doesn't show up, it's my responsibility to make sure their role is covered. As you learn to be a more effective people manager, however, delegation is key. It gets better when you can delegate responsibilities to people you trust.

I hate paying the "personal" toll. When I need to leave early for something like a doctor's appointment, I know it's costing me money personally (more than just what I pay the doctor). By the same token, if I'm out sick, there are no sick days for the owner (at least not paid ones) and the whole practice suffers.

I hate that it's 24/7. I'm always at work. Even when I'm not actually at the hospital, I'm thinking about and planning all aspects of running the practice. I wake up in the morning already planning my day. I know the hospital depends on me to be innovative and driven. I'm the creative director, chief of staff, head of surgery and grand poobah, whether I like it or not, so my brain (and my smartphone) can never truly rest.

I hate not just punching in. No one else sets my schedule or decides how and when I'll practice. I spend time calculating best practices and defining my optimum work schedule. There's something to be said for clocking into a job and then clocking out at the end and having the opportunity to switch gears and clear your mind. If you're not the practice owner, it's not your problem. All you do is show up, do a good job and go home.

I hate that leaders eat last. "The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own," writes Simon Sinek in Leaders Eat Last. "Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.” I may not be a great leader, but certainly my paycheck comes after all the “must pay” expenses, like staff and replacement equipment. Remember that standard of medicine idea? Yeah, when you're the practice owner, that level of care comes off your own bottom line.

But you know what? Life is about choices and I would pick my “soulmate” all over again. Let me tell you the reasons I love her; some are the flip side of some of these flaws ...


(Illustration Getty Images)5 ways practice ownership gives you what you need

I love being the star. Since I started my practice with only my parents as clients, everyone there is there because of me. They're my clients, and I've held their hands through the good times and the bad. I get hugged (a lot!) and I get homemade goodies with regularity. Because I'm the primary doctor and practice owner, I'm the “tie that binds” so (much to my staff's frustration) sometimes all the clients want to ask is, “What does Dr. Primm think about it?”

I love being in charge of my schedule. When I need to slip out early for something like a doctor's appointment or my son's baseball games, there's no one to ask. I know it's costing me money personally to go, but I get to decide if it's worth it. My life, my practice.

I love setting my hours. Even though work is always on my mind because I'm responsible for success (or failure), I get to decide what hours we're open and even what services we offer. I choose to close at 5:30 p.m. so I can cook dinner for my family, and I don't need to justify that choice to anyone because I'm the owner. I decided to refer emergencies to a referral center too. I carried a pager as an associate, and that life's not for me.

I love creating my own workplace culture. I can't coast along following someone else's rules, but I also don't have someone else deciding how I practice medicine. Of course, it's easier for someone else to define the job, the business and what counts as the right choices. But I define the culture at Applebrook, and when it works, my clients, patients and staff are happy and fulfilled. It might be a hard day, but it's a good one.

I love earning from my investment. Let's face it-why would you borrow even more money and take on all this responsibility if you didn't think it was a good investment? A well-run practice is a great investment, so at the end of the day, you have a good chance of making a respectable living, doing a job you love with a staff you've built for clients you've cultivated. Dream job? Maybe so.

It's true, practice ownership is not for everyone. I like making choices and being in control. I have an entrepreneurial spirit. My brain thrives on choices and the ever-changing face of the industry. You know yourself best. Are you an “owner type”? You must also know that things are not all crimson and clover, but I would do it again ... over and over!

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns and practices at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, and is the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People.

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