Corporate practices offer unique opportunities for your career
Take advantage of mentors and rapidly growing teams to move up the ladder
Corporate or group-owned practices have not always gotten the best rap from the veterinary profession, which historically has prided itself on being independent and, in general, has not been overly trustful of corporate ownership. Thirty-five years ago, Veterinary Centers of America began buying animal hospitals. By 2017, group ownership was relatively common, with more than 10% of general companion animal practices and 40% to 50% of referral practices belonging to a group.1 Since the first acquisition of a practice by a veterinary consolidator in 1987, there now are more than 60 groups of consolidators.2,3 That number appears to keep growing.
I’ll admit that I’m one of the odd ones who graduated from veterinary school believing that multipractice ownership would be beneficial to the profession. For the most part, corporate practices have faced an uphill battle for acceptance within the greater veterinary community.
However, the reality is that these groups are bringing much-needed capital to the industry. Many veterinary facilities are outdated and not professionally designed as hospitals. And with shifts in populations over the past few decades, there is a need for new practices in some of the areas more recently developed. State-of-the-art equipment is also needed, and financially it makes the most sense to house it in facilities with larger revenues.
These are all areas in which the larger veterinary groups can have an impact on the profession. However, I believe their impact on mentorship and career opportunities is even more important.
Mentorship and training
New and recent graduates value mentorship. Most leave school with minimal real practice and surgical experience This is mainly due to 4-year programs that struggle to teach all that is needed to be successful in practice today. Additionally, most schools lack the resources to provide comprehensive training in all areas of practice.4 It is also important to keep in mind that medical doctors typically proceed on to internships and residencies before entering practice, whereas many veterinary graduates do not.
Mentorship is critical because it is the gateway to a successful career in veterinary medicine for the whole team, not just the veterinarian. Well-structured mentorship and training programs for the entire team, top to bottom, are key to a well-managed practice.
The goal of all new team members should be to receive as much training as possible during the first 2 to 3 years in practice. This often involves working long hours and taking advantage of all educational opportunities. The goal for new doctors during this time frame is to become proficient medically, surgically, and at communicating with clients because the foundation built in these early years typically defines much of your practice career. The same applies to veterinary nurses, technicians, assistants, and receptionists. Become an expert at your job., and once you have mastered the basics, you can take on more responsibilities at the clinic.
Growing within a practice
Arguably, the most important benefits that hospital networks offer are new career opportunities and professional growth, something we should all applaud. For too long, the hallmark of this profession has been long hours, low pay, and few benefits in a physically demanding and stressful environment, with little chance for career growth.
Recently, I heard a nurse say to a new nurse she was mentoring, “I love what I do, but this is a dead-end job, and that’s why so many of us leave the veterinary profession.” Sadly, there is some truth to those words. Fortunately, the industry is undergoing a paradigm shift, and there is a great need for upper-level talent at the various veterinary groups.
As practice groups grow—and many grow rapidly—they need experienced teams to fill new positions. For example, when they get to 10 practices, they need an operations manager and a medical director to oversee these clinics. When they get to 50 practices, they may need a regional operations supervisor and a regional medical director, and the trend continues as they add more locations.
At this size, it may be time to add a practice software specialist for the different information management systems and staff to handle purchasing, inventory control, and marketing. Although outside expertise can be hired, many jobs are filled from the talent pool at existing hospitals or from other hospitals that cannot offer the same positions or compensation.
This hiring trend is commonplace within veterinary organizations. A practice manager who has excelled is promoted to regional operations manager and now oversees 8 to 12 locations. In tandem, a team member who has long wanted a chance to be a manager is promoted from a front desk lead or a lead nurse to fill that manager position.
On the doctor side, this process is similar. For example, a seller relinquishes being the medical director, and an associate takes on that role. And maybe the seller takes on a leadership role within the group. The bottom line is that a tremendous amount of opportunity is created, and the demand is great.
This process is extremely important as it breathes new life into the practice environment. Instead of topping out and burning out, now there are many opportunities for upward mobility. This is not all about money, which is also important, but about achieving one’s full potential and changing things up a bit. The group practice environment is very interactive and social, and over time it may lead to less burnout, less compassion fatigue, and a better work-life balance, which are all important.
Establishing a career path
Although many individuals may be content with their role at a practice for years to come, there are likely just as many who want a change and a chance to grow. Some ways to making this happen are:
- Decide what your career goals are—what you want to be doing 3 and 5 years from now—and make a road map of how you will achieve your objectives.
- At performance evaluations, share your aspirations and ask about opportunities to grow into roles that will support those aspirations. Supervisors are not mind readers. They need to know your goals and what will keep you happy and motivated.
- Strive to excel at your current position and display a positive attitude. Hard work and a job well done are often rewarded with new responsibilities and promotions.
- Stay involved and participate in group functions and meetings. Showing you care and have leadership qualities will make you stand out.
- Be flexible! When opportunity knocks, be available. It may not be the exact job you are looking for, but you may find that it’s a great fit or a good stepping-stone. For example, maybe you want to be a manager, but the only position available is in another state. If feasible, take it; this type of flexibility shows you’re motivated and may allow you to grow quickly into new opportunities within your company.
- Seek training in areas you want to pursue in the future. Also consider communications classes that focus on writing and public speaking. In more advanced roles, you will need to be a good communicator, and that applies to everyone from practice managers to CEOs.
- Put yourself out there, participate, volunteer, get noticed, think big, and take some risks. As the Bob Dylan song goes, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
Not everyone has the desire to move up the totem pole, and that is fine. But for those who are motivated to advance and excel, this is a golden age in veterinary practice. The opportunities for career growth are almost unlimited.
Jeff Rothstein, DVM, MBA, is a founder and copresident of Mission Veterinary Partners, headquartered in Novi, Michigan, which operates more than 250 veterinary hospitals in more than 30 states. He is a frequent presenter at veterinary conferences and veterinary schools and can be contacted at email@example.com.
- Nolen RS. The corporatization of veterinary medicine: corporation’s involvement in historically entrepreneurial profession generates uncertainty. AMVA. November 14, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2022. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2018-12-01/corporatization-veterinary-medicine
- Wartenberg S. Vet practice fever burns as clinics change hands. ColumbusCEO. February 2, 2021. Accessed February 23, 2022. https://www.columbusceo.com/story/business/briefs/2021/02/02/vet-practice-fever-burns-as-clinics-change-hands/43370487/
- Zak I. Veterinary consolidators: North American market analysis. Veterinary Integration Solutions. Updated January 27, 2022. Accessed February 23, 2022. https://vetintegrations.com/insights/veterinary-consolidators/
- Wise C. Corporate veterinary practice pros & cons. VetPrep. February 2, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2022. https://blog.vetprep.com/corporate-veterinary-practice-pros-cons