Be the business
Veterinarians, generally speaking, are not self-centered people.
Veterinarians, generally speaking, are not self-centered people. Focusing on others helps us to build relationships with our clients, empathize more deeply with our patients and create stronger teams with our staff. This tendency to avoid a selfish outlook does not, however, make us the best veterinarians that we can be. To grow as doctors, make ourselves maximally valuable to our patients and our employers and achieve true job satisfaction, we need to pay attention to ourselves. We need to understand what our career options are; how we want to grow; what our strengths, weaknesses and passions are; and what success looks like for us as individuals. The best method I have found for achieving this mindset is trying to view myself as my own business. (I think Andy, Inc. has a nice ring to it.)
Before you skip to the next article, let me say that I know that thinking about business is probably not your favorite thing to do. Most veterinarians would probably rank strategic business planning right up there with watching C-SPAN and getting a flu vaccine in the list of awesome things to do on your day off. Career planning is not sexy, but you know it is important. And this method is a quick and easy way to wrap your head around what you are doing and where you are going as a veterinarian.
Now, let's pretend that you are your own business and you work for no one else. Are you doing the following things well?
Setting your price
For most associates, figuring out what to ask for in an employment contract is like playing basketball with small children. You worry about being humiliated and taken advantage of in a way that even your close friends will never let you live down. You also fear being perceived as an egotistical jerk who treats poor, good-hearted practice owners mercilessly for your own pleasure. But if you think of yourself as a business, you can escape that feeling by asking yourself: "Are my prices fair? Do they reflect my value to the consumer (practice owner)? Will they keep me in business?"
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you need to negotiate. And it offers some direction on what you should ask for. Remember, asking an outrageous price for your services or nickel and diming your client (practice owner) is not how you want to run your business. However, you also can't survive if your costs to live are greater than what you are able to bring in. You need to know what your overhead expenses are (your personal living expenses including debt), and what value you can bring to the hospital (both financially and culturally). If you have these key pieces of information, you can take an educated stand on your salary and benefits.
Sometimes your potential client (practice owner) will not be willing or able to pay the price that you are asking. You have the power to try to negotiate further, to accept the arrangement your client is proposing or to find a different client. Remember that money isn't everything, and sometimes it's better to make less money and work for a client that fits your style. Just never forget that you always have to be able to pay the bills.
Protecting your reputation
When you go to a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, you know what you are going to get. The people at the front desk will be available, the cleaning crew will have the room ready, you won't see any emotional meltdowns from the staff and management will not be caught yelling or throwing things. This dependable, committed approach to service exemplifies professionalism, and it is the easiest way to build and protect your reputation.
Consistently behaving professionally will increase your value to the practice, protect your reputation in the veterinary community and ultimately provide you with credibility and career options. You have to do it every single day—even when the urge to go "Jersey Shore" on certain staff members is overwhelming—but it will pay off in the end.
Building your brand
How do you want your clients, your peers and the staff to think of you? Are you the gifted surgeon, the local expert on avian medicine or the compassionate guardian of underprivileged animals? When you share your interests with clients in person or on your website, when you consider taking a different job or when you research CE opportunities, never forget who you want to be. If you tell people what your interests are and you actively seek opportunities to build skills in those areas, then you are guiding your career toward your dream job, even if you aren't 100 percent sure what that dream job is. Keep focusing on the areas that you are passionate about, and people will seek you out with opportunities to do what you love most.
Thinking of yourself as a business, especially when your work schedule and conditions are largely dictated by your employer, probably feels a bit odd. However, this mental exercise can empower you to make your career what you want it to be. So, Dr. CEO, what do you want to be, and how are you going to get there?
Dr. Roark is an associate Veterinarian in Leesburg, Va.