To be (a veterinary practice owner), or not to be?

October 13, 2016
Jeremy Campfield, DVM
Jeremy Campfield, DVM

Dr. Jeremy Campfield lives near Sacramento with his family, including an aging mini Aussie and an obstreperous pitbull mix that some mistake for a chocolate Lab (to the delight of her owners). When the family is not getting their hands dirty in the garden, Dr. Campfield indulges in his love for the outdoors with hiking, kitesurfing and climbing aboard any two-wheeled contraption. Please remember: Watch for cyclists, share the road, and pass them like you love them!

After an unexpected conversation with Dr. Codger, Dr. Greenskin has an important decision to make about her future at the veterinary clinic. Will she fish or cut bait?

Illustration by Ryan OstranderHuh? What just happened? Dr. Greenskin sits up after abruptly waking from a fading dream and looks around, waiting for the fog to clear. Then the headache registers. Squinting now, waiting for another wave of nausea to pass, she decides that last glass of white Zin was not the best idea after all. So another lesson comes to pass for the young veterinarian: Her alcohol tolerance just isn't what it used to be back in the good ol' college and vet school days.

But can you blame her for overindulging just a tad? Dr. Greenskin has been going through a whirlwind of considerations and emotions since the last little "talk" she'd had with the boss-man

Does Dr. Codger seriously think she would make a good practice owner? Is this really the best thing she could do for her career? How the heck could she even afford to buy a practice? With the already incessant stress of her current debt load, taking on a huge business loan and all of that responsibility just sounds like too much to bear. 

And does Old Codger even care whether she might be successful as the new practice owner, or is he just looking to cash out quickly, get out of Dodge and use all of Greenskin's newly incurred debt to live happily ever after?

Is this an opportunity or not?

The search for advice and leadership skills

Over the next few weeks, Dr. Greenskin reaches out to everyone she knows. She is constantly signing into Tweetybook and Instaspace, pasting on walls all day long. The thing is, none of this really helps. She gets different answers from everyone. She feels as if the whole world is looking at her, waiting and wondering, what will Dr. Greenskin do? She goes back to the basics, making her lists of pros and cons, which are stacking up with no clear winner. 

Meanwhile, at work in the clinic, Dr. Greenskin is quietly practicing leadership and business skills when she gets the chance. Instead of scurrying out of the pharmacy when she senses the front staff and technicians are about to have another scuffle, she begins playing the role of moderator and tries to keep the peace. She looks more closely at her invoices and daily transaction totals. While considering all of the hospital's expenses, she wonders how a business like this one can stay afloat at all. Is this the kind of daily stress that is going to bring her a long-term sense of autonomy and purpose?

Sooner than she had anticipated, Greenskin finds herself once again confronted by none other than her dear friend Doc Codger. 

A blunt discussion 

"Well, it's already been a month since our last chat, Greenskin," he mutters while rummaging around in the milky cold “sterile” tray. “I'm talking with some other parties about the future of this practice, so I really do need an idea of whether this is something you are interested in or not.” He sees that Dr. Greenskin is feeling a bit overwhelmed, so he continues. “Look, I know it's a whole lot to think about, and it's overwhelming. For what it is worth, I am more than willing to mentor you through the process as much as you feel you need. I truly think you would do a great job here and that you could take this practice to the next level.”

Dr. Greenskin turns her filter on and refrains from muttering, "Yeah, you mean like new sharp Metzenbaums 'next level'?" 

Instead, she faces the old vet and gets it all on the table. “I also think I could do this and do a great job at it. But I am very concerned about the effect this kind of move will have on my quality of life and well-being. I also have been looking over the numbers you sent me, and I am worried that with the asking price for the practice, I will actually have very little room to improve things here. We need some new equipment, and parts of the hospital need to be remodeled badly. With the amount of debt I would incur taking over the business as-is, I don't see any room left for making improvements.”

Dr. Codger winces and responds (perhaps a little too honestly now), “You young kids, all you care about is having a nice cushy life and no responsibility. If you want to do it, then work for it! You'll make the loan payments if you just keep working hard, all the time, every day, and night, and weekend. Oh, and another thing, you need to answer your phone every time it rings, got it?!”

Dr. Greenskin stares at her Birkenstocks while Codger finishes up a coughing fit before continuing. “Here's the deal. There are a couple of corporate outfits that are ready to hand over a check for even more than I told you the asking price was. They're ready to come in here and do what it takes to take it to the next level, whether it be remodeling, new equipment, even new doctors!" 

Greenskin feels that familiar burning sensation behind her ears and is back on the offensive. “There you go, you Old Timers ready to just go ahead and cash out no matter what the consequence of selling every veterinary clinic to a corporate entity! I hope you know that, while the decision may work out well for you financially, you old crusty vets are the ones selling out our profession to corporate America! We young vets can and will work hard, but there's no way I can even pretend to compete with the sharks out there. What do you want to do, Dr. Codger?!”

Both stand in silence, digesting each other's arguments. The new kennel assistant scurries past, red-faced, having clearly overheard some very important-sounding arguing between the two doctors.

The silence continues through the rest of the afternoon as the hospital quiets down. Where will the next meeting lead? Find out soon in the next Old School, New School!

Are you having a tough time adjusting to your old crotchety employer? Is your new inexperienced associate just not fitting in at your practice? Please send stories, ideas and comments to

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. This series originally appeared in Pulse, the publication of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.