Will the pressures of being a boss be balanced out by the joys of self-determination? Will you mind longer hours if you know you'll hold on to the financial rewards? These are the questions that can cause an eager associate to wake up late at night in a cold sweat.
Remember those Looney Tunes episodes where Bugs (or Porky or Daffy) had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and they were both trying to persuade him to do the right thing—or be wicked? If you're thinking about ownership, you know what that's like. Will the pressures of being a boss be balanced out by the joys of self-determination? Will you mind longer hours if you know you'll hold on to the financial rewards? These are the questions that can cause an eager associate to wake up late at night in a cold sweat.
The bottom line
I'm going to play both angel and devil, giving you both the pros and cons of practice ownership. Which will you listen to?
The bad news: Although owners make almost twice as much as associates, according to data from the AVMA, they also experience about twice the stress. Is it worth it? If the practice experiences a few down months, whose pay suffers? (Here's a hint: not the team's.) If the gross is down, team members and the IRS still get paid, so you'll make less.
Especially in the early years of ownership, this income uncertainty is a serious challenge. Yes, you might make a bunch more than your associates—but you might not. Can you sleep nights despite worries about paying your bills and providing for your family? The financial upside is greater for owners, but so is the risk.
You do things your way
The good news: Whether it's your own herd of children who need a college education or the dream of owning a fleet of yachts, major financial requirements point to ownership as the obvious choice. Sure, the first few years will be rocky and penury may be your middle name, but soon you'll have enough to buy lunch, and from there it's all uphill in the income category.
Of course, financial success isn't guaranteed, and it's based on making smart decisions, but the earning potential is much greater for owners than associates. You'll have an income from your work as a doctor and as an owner. You'll make money from all the services in your clinic, whether you perform them or not.
You make your own hours
If you plan strategically at the right points in time, your practice will gain enough value that you can sell it and retire at 40 to write best-selling novels.
The bad news: Many owners don't have personal lives. Not only are their hours longer, but they will often carry stress home to inflict on innocent family members. Financial pressure, team problems, medical failures, and a host of other ownership anxieties don't belong at home, yet it's difficult to separate them from your personal life. This puts a burden on your family. If you also aren't making sufficient income, the pressure can be fatal to a loving relationship with your spouse or partner. If you have to turn down your kid's plea to play hoops for the third time this week, practice ownership can seem like the worst idea since flavored antifreeze.
The good news: The veterinary profession today is finally embracing the idea that work and a personal life should be in balance. While associates can change jobs until they eventually (hopefully) find a practice that suits them, they're at the whim of the boss. Owners can structure their practices so that everyone has time for both a fulfilling professional life and a meaningful personal life. Owners who do this find that everyone at the clinic is physically and emotionally healthier, and they deliver better care to patients and clients. Owners also have the authority to leverage their team and associates to make sure they themselves have necessary time with family and friends.
The bad news: When your team members are good, they are really good. But when they're bad, they can be lazy, incompetent, quarrelsome, bickering, and demanding—and that's on a good day. From hiring to training, reviews to raises, personnel issues top most owners' lists of biggest practice stressors.
Good employees are hard to find and harder to keep. And even they take vacations, get sick, have children, and stir up numerous crises that you must resolve. Because most doctors are introverted and intellectual, we're often ill-equipped to handle team members' emotional needs. How many times a day have you seen an owner shaking her head and mumbling, "Why can't they just work and leave the personal baggage at home?"
Yes, employees are a great help—in fact, they're indispensable. But most hospital owners find constant headaches in that corner of the clinic.
You are the boss
The good news: In spite of all the troubles associated with staff—unexpected absences, lousy productivity, personality conflicts—it's the team and the associates who make it possible for owners to run their practices the way they want and to maintain balance in their personal lives. In my experience, it's a joy to spend a workday with happy professionals tending to our shared goal.
Dr. Craig Woloshyn
Dr. Craig Woloshyn, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Board member, is devilish only on occasion at Animal Medical Center in Spring Hill, Fla. He shares his advice through Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting. Please send questions or comments to email@example.com