7 traits of flying solo


Essential characteristics for associates hoping to get their own practice off the ground.

In the course of my travels, I've met many associate veterinarians who quit positions to go solo. For some, it was the best decision they ever made. For others, it was their biggest regret. Here are some of the qualities that, when looking back, these doctors considered essential to making it on their own.

1. Self-confidence. One California practitioner realized he was chained to a high-volume practice that he'd grown to despise. But going out on his own meant getting by on a greatly reduced income, at least initially. Though it's a common reason for hesitation, this veterinarian decided to take the risk—and hasn't looked back.

2. Management skills. In the beginning, you'll need to think about a lot of things you've probably never considered before: collections, accounts payable, cash flow, marketing, inventory control. You'll also need to know how to hire and manage great employees—the backbone of a well-run practice.

3. Self-reliance. Those contemplating flying solo must be able to work independently without the benefit of colleagues to consult with. As one veterinarian explains, "Solo practice is a lot lonelier and less social than I anticipated."

4. Financial stability. You'll need a financial cushion or a bank loan big enough to support you until your practice is well-established, which could take several years. Numerous practitioners have admitted that this was the final straw that did them in—their income simply failed to cover their expenses.

5. Tenacity. Veterinarians who make it on their own don't have failures, they have learning experiences. They know there's always a choice, a different strategy, a different path, a decision to view the unexpected as a challenge—but no crises.

6. Versatility. Starting a practice requires a willingness to do things you previously delegated—both clinical and office-related tasks—to help keep overhead costs low. It requires you to be a jack-of-all-trades: veterinarian, practice manager, technician, and receptionist—until you can afford to hire team members to take care of these tasks.

7. Energy. New practice owners typically work long hours, especially at the beginning of their new position. "Cement family support by having a realistic discussion about the demands of solo practice before you proceed with anything—especially if you're starting from scratch," one veterinarian says. "You don't want constant arguments or questions about when you'll start making money."

Flying solo can be scary, and it takes a lot of planning, but when it works it can be one of life's most satisfying and rewarding ventures. "I'm working harder than ever," says one doctor who's been on his own for less than a year. "But I've never been happier."

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).

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