3 reasons to join me in owning

April 1, 2019
Julie Reck, DVM

Julie Reck, DVM, owns Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

A path to build wealth. A willingness to learn to be a better delegator and leader. A calling to provide a healthy place for veterinary professionals to bloom. That’s all possible as the owner of a veterinary hospital.

If you’ve cracked a veterinary publication in the last decade, there’s a good chance you’ve seen headlines like these: “Corporate veterinary practice is overtaking independent owners” “Mental well-being of veterinary professionals falling while depression, suicide rates climb” “Veterinary practice ownership declines—is gender shift to blame?”

These trends are important, but maybe it’s time to look for chances to shift our perspectives and course-correct to reverse them.

A career-shaping discovery

When I’m asked about the journey that led me to open my practice seven years ago, I typically begin by admitting that I “inadvertently” discovered the financial opportunities provided by practice ownership.

In 2010, I was operating a rapidly growing pet hospice veterinary service. I considered adding veterinarians to this mobile service, but my home could no longer handle housing the medical supplies or my receptionist/technician employee. I started looking through local ads of small practices for sale in the Carolinas, with the thought that they would be affordable options to act as a hub for my pet hospice service.

As I researched the practice valuation process, I “inadvertently” discovered that through practice ownership you can collect the salary of a practicing veterinarian, the salary of a business owner and own an appreciating asset to be sold, in some cases, for the amount that the practice generates per year in gross revenue. For instance, if a profitable two-doctor practice is generating $1.5 million per year in revenue, it could be potentially worth that or even more when listed for sale.

I vividly remember reaching this conclusion while sitting alone on the living room couch, and as soon as my husband came home from work I started to explain my discovery. I was a bit shocked that I had to “inadvertently” discover this immense wealth-building opportunity available to any veterinary professional willing to take the plunge into practice ownership. I found myself asking, “Where was this information in vet school, and why aren’t practice owners and vet publications highlighting this fantastic opportunity?”

More flexibility, not less

Asking these questions led to a deeper understanding of how uncomfortable we are as a profession discussing profit and personal wealth development. Many of us also watched previous generations of practice owners work tirelessly as full-time veterinarians and business owners, forced to lose so much time away from family and personal lives.

We are a profession that has become female-dominated, and many, including myself, have also taken the plunge into parenthood. The reality is that motherhood is a hands-on event, to say the least. It quickly becomes clear to a new mom just how much those beautiful, little souls need you day in, day out.

With no one talking about wealth-building in practice ownership and everyone talking about how much stress and sacrifice come with the role, it’s no wonder we see the headlines we do time and time again. But it’s here that we’re doing ourselves and our profession an injustice. Practice ownership is the opportunity for the utmost freedom and work-life balance in veterinary medicine. By cultivating leadership and employee engagement, you get the option to work as little or as much in your practice as you desire.

Want to attend those field trips and parent-teacher conferences, all while building a healthy college fund for those little ones? Then trust me, practice ownership is a road you want to consider.

Leadership skills make life easier

People say, “Practice ownership is only for certain personalities,” or “I went to school to learn medicine not take on a business role.” We sell ourselves short again if we limit our perspective to our current level of personal development.

The truth is that every veterinarian has the capacity to consider practice ownership, just as every self-sufficient adult has the capacity to consider becoming a parent. We understand that upon entering parenthood we will know very little about bringing a new life into the world, but we commit ourselves to learning and developing into the best parents possible for our children. Parenthood is a big consideration, and you choose to take it on or skip it. The choice to enter practice ownership should be made the same way. Before you tell yourself that you’re incapable of being a practice owner, ask yourself, “Am I committed to developing my leadership ability to reach my greatest potential?”

Owning helps me help others

As we look to change the rising trend of depression, professional dissatisfaction and suicide rates in veterinary medicine, one way to help is by taking on the role of practice owner. It may seem strange, but to explain why, I want to turn to 12-step programs.

With addiction levels on the rise, many of us have friends and family members who have the sought the help of 12-step programs. Each step is important, but most experts agree that if an addict completes steps one to 11, but not the 12th, then they’re at risk for relapse. The 12th step is an act of service to help a fellow addict or alcoholic. It’s the act of service and fully committing to support a fellow person that provides the fulfillment that the addict was seeking in the first place.

I admitted earlier that it was the discovery of the financial opportunities that motivated me to pursue practice ownership. It took me five years of owning a practice and a near-death experience during the birth of my son to awaken me to explore the other areas that practice ownership could be fulfilling. My near-death experience drastically altered my interests, and I fell in love with the role and responsibility of creating an environment that allowed fellow veterinary professionals to thrive. It’s certainly fulfilling to heal a patient, but it’s hard to put into words the fulfillment you get when a fellow veterinary professional tells you how much they love their job and the environment you’re charged with creating.

With practice owners prioritizing the importance of establishing environments that foster community, positivity and trust, I believe we can heal this profession one practice at a time.

Am I ‘obnoxiously optimistic’?

My pursuit of extraordinary profits generated in a positive practice environment that prioritizes and nurtures the development of its staff is admittedly “obnoxiously optimistic.” But if you’re anything like me, then you’re tired of reading the same headlines discussing trends continuously until they become truths.

Was reading this article the moment you found yourself sitting on the couch “inadvertently” discovering the wealth-building capability of practice ownership? Maybe you told yourself you were incapable of owning a practice without ever asking yourself the right questions. Or did you find yourself unsure of how to make a difference as just one person in this large profession where so many are hurting?

If you’re ready to consider your own “obnoxiously optimistic” journey, don’t dismiss practice ownership. Start exploring.

Julie Reck, DVM, owns Veterinary Medical Center of Oak Mill in Oak Mill, South Carolina.