Building a community


After 20 years of working for others, this doctor finds freedom in building her own practice-and enjoys the rewards of caring for people where she lives.

Wherever she goes in her community, Dr. Sandy Block sees at least one of her clients. They shop where she shops, walk their dogs around her neighborhood, and some attend the same church or are in her kids' sports programs or classes. And that's exactly what she loves about practicing in her own veterinary facility in the town where she lives.

"I live five minutes from the office, so I can check on patients in the evenings when needed," she says. "I love seeing my clients out and about and being a part of their lives—that's something I didn't have as much where I worked before."

Having practiced in hospitals with between two and 12 doctors for nearly 20 years, Dr. Block is excited about solo practice—though it can be daunting at times, she admits. And building the cozy, homelike practice she loves also earned her a 2010 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit Award.

Floor Plan: Bollinger Canyon Animal Hospital

Finding her footing

Unlike many colleagues who dreamed of practice ownership for years, Dr. Block always thought she'd be content as an associate. "I just wanted to practice, not manage," she says. "But somewhere along the way, I decided I could do just as well on my own, and I set out to buy a practice." After several attempts to purchase a practice failed, she felt drawn to building from scratch.

"I didn't have a notebook with ideas of what I wanted in a practice, like so many people have, since I hadn't been planning this for long," Dr. Block says. But with years of experience under her belt and the guidance of her architect, it wasn't hard to figure out what she wanted—and what she would avoid. On her must-have list was a separate cat ward, something her peers tried to discourage her from in a state where floor space comes at a premium. "I stuck to my guns, and I'm glad I did," she says. "It's easier to examine cats when they feel comfortable, not frightened by sharing space with dogs."

A look at the numbers

Other items to make the cut include digital radiography, paperless records, a central treatment area with glass-front doors to see ICU patients, and an office for herself. "Honestly, though, I never sit at my desk in my office," she says. "My dog sleeps under my desk, while I'm at a work station in the treatment room to be accessible to the staff."

Practicing by herself means finding a whole new system for her day. "It's very new for me to be by myself, but I've enjoyed figuring out a new work flow more than I expected," Dr. Block says. She's had to tweak her systems a bit, though, to make it work. For example, instead of doing everything in front of clients in the exam room, now Dr. Block has her assistants take pets to the treatment room after she performs the initial history and exam, while she creates a personalized pet health report card with medical recommendations. Clients are invited back to the reception area for a cup of coffee, a soda, or a snack while they wait for their pets to return.

"I thought I'd get more pushback from clients about the change, but only one person has even asked me about the new procedures," she says. "It's a more efficient use of our time."

My practice, my freedom

With the responsibility of owning a practice comes great freedom, Dr. Block says. She loves spending her time and talents as she wishes, implementing a Vet for a Day program to help raise money for her local school district, treating police and medical service alert dogs, and helping other animal organizations. "Giving my time to these community groups is very rewarding," she says. "I like being able to decide where to put my pro bono dollars and help those who need it."

Dr. Block also uses 30-minute appointment slots, which she says her advisors tell her is crazy, but she loves it. "When I spend that time with my clients, they know that I care, and they're more likely to take my recommendations," she says. "They're at home here and are part of our little family."

Sarah A. Moser is a freelance writer and editor in Lenexa, Kan. Post questions or comments on the hospital design message board at or send them to

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