All-female practice grows three-fold


"Tomorrow I have the day off, so you can reach me at the clinic,” she says matter of factly, sans even a hint of sarcasm. She spoke via telephone from her clinic on yet another one of her scheduled days off.

"Tomorrow I have the day off, so you can reach me at the clinic," she says matter of factly, sans even a hint of sarcasm. She spoke via telephone from her clinic on yet another one of her scheduled days off.

"If I do not show up in my clinic, then they know that I am not in the city. My days off are spent in the office, and I like it that way," says Jeanne Eisenhour, DVM, founder and proprietor of The South Suburban Animal Clinic in Perrysburg, Ohio. "I look at it a little differently in that I do not dread my time in the office because I love what I do, and my time off gives me time to do what I need to do on a management basis as opposed to a medical basis."

Eisenhour launched her practice in 1996 with two support staff and a personal investment backed by a conventional bank loan. Today, her four-physician-strong clinic employs 27 supporting characters—all women—and has generated more than $1 million annually since 2002.

"Opening this clinic and seeing it grow has been my proudest professional achievement thus far," she says. "We have been here for eight years, and we've seen it grow from a 2,800-square-foot practice to constructing a 10,000-square-foot-building that we plan to occupy next year."

The expanded practice will include medical and surgical care, boarding, day care and training, an indoor athletic field for dogs, agility training, hydrotherapy, and a plan to grow its surgical offerings.

"We already have a behaviorist, and over time, we hope to hire specialists to come in, including ophthalmology and internal care," she says. "We do a lot of surgery ourselves, but we'd like a board-certified surgeon to come in when appropriate so we can expand our surgical care, too."

Starting out

Eisenhour grew up on a farm in rural northwest Ohio; with her love for animals, she says veterinary medicine was a natural evolution for her. But veterinary school wasn't her principal love as a young woman. After college, she left the country to follow her husband on a naval assignment. She taught conversational English in Spain and Italy for about seven years before she returned to the United States a single mother.

She earned her DVM from The Ohio State University in 1989, and she moved near her parents' farm to find work.

;When I came out of school, I knew that I wanted to go back to the Toledo area so that my daughter could grow up around her grandparents, and I knew I wanted to work with small animals.

;Eisenhour went to work as an associate in a high-volume small animal practice in rural Ohio where she was able to learn a great deal about emergency medicine.

"That particular practice taught me a lot about medicine and surgery that a lot of clinics would not be able to teach due to the volume," she says. The level of care there was exceptional, and I learned how to practice good medicine and how to treat the client as well as the animal."

Though she says she encountered some hesitancy from clients when discussing medical issues with a woman, the obstacles were not insurmountable.

"Early on it was harder than a man to get the respect you deserved being a graduate of a veterinary medical program, but it wasn't horribly difficult. It was just more difficult than a man," she says. "I remember talking with a client about her case, and she asked me, 'When do I get to see the doctor?' So I turned my back to her, then I turned back around and said, 'Here I am.' "

Today, Eisenhour says the all-female staff at the expanding clinic is a comfort to many clients.

"Women are the caregivers in life, and caring for animals is a very natural pursuit," she says. "I know that our clients are very happy to have all women as veterinarians; they feel very comfortable in our care."

No rest for the weary

Though Eisenhour has built the practice to the point where she can take two-week vacations if she wants—typically in the Caribbean—she didn't always have that luxury. Being a practice owner is fraught with demands and time-consuming responsibilities that associates often don't see. She says it took three years to award herself a vacation, but the work was worth the rewards.

"As far as advice to women: Face the challenges that are out there and know what you want out of life. If indeed you want to be an owner, then you must face the fact that it is a business, and you have to devote the time to make it work," she says. "There can be a good quality of life for you in that role, but you must realize that there is more time spent as an owner than as an associate. The time investment shouldn't scare you; ownership is a wonderful feeling and despite the challenges, I would never have given that up."

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