8 keys to having it all: a practice, a family-and your sanity


Practice-owning moms share lessons and laughs during CVC panel discussion.

Owning a veterinary practice is no easy task. Between managing staff, making financial decisions, and keeping your clinical skills sharp, there's little time at the day's end for a personal life. Add a child or two, and life becomes exponentially more complicated. Suddenly daycare, parent-teacher conferences, sports, and school plays are piled on top of everything else.

Daunting, yes. But three practice owners have found a way to make it work. Drs. Jane Jeffries (Noah's Ark Animal Clinic, Kansas City, Mo.), Cecilia Friberg (Animal Dermatology Center of Chicago), and Virginia Rickford (Centennial Valley Animal Hospital, Louisville, Colo.) say they've achieved at least some sense of balance-although none of them claim that it's easy. In a CVC Kansas City panel discussion moderated by Mark Opperman, CVPM, Veterinary Economics' hospital management editor, they shared their strategies. Here they are.

1. Build-and rely on-a support network. All three panelists cite family members and friends as crucial allies when it comes to juggling childcare duties. And the practice team can help as well. Dr. Friberg made a room in her practice available for employees' children to use when the inevitable need arose-a family-friendly move that led to appreciation and loyalty among her team members. Now her staff is more than willing to pick up her kids from school and pinch-hit on other occasions when the boss is in a bind.

2. Get organized. Dr. Friberg swears by the Franklin-Covey system of time management and organization. She schedules every week in detail, relying on project and task lists pertaining to both her family and her practice. Once her schedule is in place, she doesn't vary from it except in extreme cases.

3. Learn how to run your business. Dr. Jeffries admits that she did a poor job of maintaining a successful family or practice until she got help from a consultant. Once she hired an associate and learned to delegate and manage effectively, “everything got so much better,” she says. “I drank the management Kool-Aid and haven't looked back.”

4. Buy into the practice gradually. Dr. Rickford took on many practice management duties as an associate, and when she was ready to become an owner, she bought into the practice a little at a time so the full burden of ownership didn't land on her all at once. This helped her grow into the role at a realistic pace.

5. Schedule appointments with your kids. These are just as important as practice appointments, all three panelists say. So pencil them in your planner. But don't feel the need to explain these “meetings” in detail. When it's time for your kid's soccer game and you've planned to go, stand firm in the face of last-minute requests from clients and team members. As long as there's no emergency, simply say, “I'm really sorry, I have an appointment-I need to go.” Then walk out the door.

6. Choose your sacrifices. Compromise is inevitable in this juggling act-the key is to make sure you're making the right decisions instead of being blindsided. For example, Dr. Rickford and her husband chose to live close to her husband's work so he could be available for their children's needs. This means she commutes 50 minutes one-way to her practice. But that's a sacrifice they decided was worth making. On the other hand, Dr. Jeffries says she missed out on a significant portion of her daughter's growing-up years because of poor practice management skills. That was not a sacrifice she wanted to continue to make, which is why she sought expert management help.

7. Create quality moments. Look for opportunities to truly be in the moment when you're with your children. Instead of crashing on the couch and turning on the TV when you get home, get down on the floor and play with toys with your 4-year-old, or ask your pre-teen about her day. Those are the moments that will shape your kids' development, and it pays to approach them intentionally.

8. Don't worry about what others think. Only you can decide what values you want to live by. Once you've thought through what's important to you, make decisions according to those values, and don't worry about what other people think. Ditch the “mommy guilt” (after all, every parent feels some sense of insecurity, no matter what they decide about work and child-raising), focus on your priorities, and let the rest go. At that point, you'll know you have it all.

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