Certification: Is it for you?


Credentials can be a contentious topic, but we can all agree that education is essential to success-regardless of your position. Here, two practice managers share the choices behind their career paths so you can better decide your own.

Why I'm a CVPM

For me, becoming a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM) was a life-changing experience. The day I opened the envelope from the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA) and read my passing results was one of sheer joy. Here's a quick look at common questions I hear from people considering certification. I hope my answers help you make the right choice for your career.

Jennifer Inbody

Q: Did your duties change after you were certified?

A: Before I became a CVPM, my job was like that of many practice managers: I managed the bookkeeping, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll; created and fulfilled the practice's marketing initiatives; managed disgruntled clients; performed some human resources duties; and scheduled the employees' work shifts. Basically, I was the go-to girl for many aspects of the clinic.

After I earned my certification, the confidence I had in my managerial abilities grew—as did my responsibilities. The practice owner respected my opinion and work even more than before. I started handling every single aspect of the business, and I reported to the owner regularly. As a result, he continually felt more comfortable focusing solely on medicine because he knew his business was in good hands.

Q: Why did you get certified for a job you already had?

A: The CVPM credentials confirm that a practice manager understands and can apply advanced business and management principles. And these principles are so important to veterinary practices. No matter how great a practice's medicine is, if the business is failing, then clients, pets, and team members are suffering. It's inevitable that successful practices will reach a point where they can't grow anymore without someone spending all of his or her time on the business of veterinary medicine. I wanted to be sure I was prepared to be that person.

Q: How did you prepare for the certification exam?

A: The time commitment varies depending on your background. I spent about a year and a half on my certification. After reading the application and the qualifications necessary to take the exam (see "Qualifications Required to Apply for CVPM Certification"), I realized I needed to complete two college-level courses to satisfy the formal education requirements. While completing the two courses, I read the books on the suggested-reading list and created my own study guide.

Qualifications required to apply for CVPM certification

As the day of the exam grew closer, I joined a study group with other CVPM candidates. I devoted more and more time each week to preparing my study guide and rereading the material. This added up to about six to eight hours of study time a week during the month before the exam.

Q: What are the benefits and drawbacks of certification?

A: Earning my CVPM has opened doors in writing, speaking, consulting, training, mentoring, participating in professional committees, and networking. It helped me earn additional job responsibilities and a higher salary. Certification has also helped me grow in the field of management, enhancing the confidence I have in my work, as well as my contributions to the profession.

While there were no drawbacks for me, there are a few areas that I hope evolve over time. One such example is that many of the 172 CVPMs in the United States and Canada transition from managing practices to consulting full time, limiting the CVPMs involved in daily practice management.

I also hope more practice owners come to understand the value of hiring a manager. At the same time, I hope more practice managers are able to build fulfilling careers. One of the most important steps to making this happen is creating an open, supportive, beneficial relationship between the owner and manager. This allows the doctor to focus on medicine and the manager to gain a higher level of work-related satisfaction.

Jennifer Inbody, CVPM, is the hospital administrator at All Creatures Animal Hospital in Granbury, Texas, and a founding partner at Lead Dog Consultants. Please send questions and comments to firstline@advanstar.com.

Why I'm not a CVPM

The practice manager's role is an important one: To complement the owner. My practice owner, Dr. Robin Downing, manages the veterinary issues, and I take care of everything else. It's a big job, and doing it well requires a lot of education and training. Still, I decided that at my age, becoming a CVPM wouldn't benefit my career. Here are the questions people ask me about my decision—and my answers.

Shanon DeNayer

Q: How come you decided against seeking CVPM certification?

A: I saw no advantage in having the extra letters after my name. I love my current job, and I'm confident that I possess the necessary skills and education. Before I started working in the veterinary field, I worked in the Ohio public education system and for the Girl Scouts of the USA. I also had training that I think was at least comparable, if not superior, to the CVPM program. I have a master's in education with an administration emphasis, and I've received numerous relevant certifications through other organizations. To prepare for my current position, I completed courses in small-business development, accounting and bookkeeping, and computer studies.

Q: Can uncertified managers be as effective as certified managers?

A: Even without the CVPM credentials, in 1999, I was named Practice Manager of the Year, an award sponsored by the VHMA. Experience is more valuable than credentials in my book. The most important part of being an effective manager is sharing the practice owner's values, mission, and vision.

I also believe in embarking on a lifetime of learning, and I think all managers must stay current in the field. I regularly attend veterinary conferences and other courses that interest me. I also avidly read business and management books, because the principles are easily adapted to veterinary medicine. It's also vital that practice managers network and surround themselves with strong mentors. This has been integral to my success.

Q: Have you benefitted from not seeking certification?

A: I've been able to divert my time, energy, and money toward other activities. Some of the best management training comes from outside the field of veterinary medicine. For instance, I attended the Disney Institute. Through it, I learned the importance of hiring team members who fit our practice culture and mission. I also sought certification in death and grief studies. Helping families through their grief journey after a pet's longtime illness or euthanasia is one of the most important aspects of my job.

Q: Are there any disadvantages to not seeking CVPM certification?

A: If I were to replace myself with another manager, I would look to hire someone who's a CVPM or someone who has great training, skills, and experience and is interested in becoming certified. I encourage anyone considering practice management to become credentialed, especially if you plan to work at various clinics throughout your career. Certification makes you more marketable, and shortens your learning curve for various situations that arise in practice.

Sharon DeNayer, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member, is the practice manager at Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo. She's worked in the veterinary field for 21 years.

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