DVM taps into Florida's emerging specialty market

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At 34 years old, baby faced Neil Shaw, DVM, ACVIM, appears to have walked straight off a college campus.

At 34 years old, baby faced Neil Shaw, DVM, ACVIM, appears to have walked straight off a college campus.

Packed with state-of-the-art equipment, Florida Veterinary Specialists (FVS) opens as a referral practice during the day and stays open as an emergency clinic at night. No general veterinary care is offered at the practice.

Yet his unimposing, affable exterior seems to aid this lifelong Floridian's success as founder of the region's premier specialty referral and emergency center - a business earning more than $10 million a year.

"It's a fun, young practice with a lot of enthusiasm," says Shaw of the Florida Veterinary Specialists (FVS), the one-man referral center he founded in 1996. "Growing this large is not what we envisioned. I'm as surprised as anyone."

Family foundation

It began six years ago when Shaw, planning for a career in academia, was approached by his business-savvy brother Darryl to embark on a solo practice.

Dr. Neil Shaw

The idea wasn't foreign. After all, Shaw's father, a small animal veterinarian, already ran a practice in Tampa.

"We started small, we had seen it done before to some degree, and I had absolute confidence in him," Shaw says of his brother, now a partner and hospital administrator. "I knew I wanted to stay in the Tampa area, so that helped cement the decision for me."

Erick Mears, DVM, ACVIM, is an FVS veterinarian who could one day be part owner. "Down the road, I'd like my specialists to buy into this practice," founder Dr. Neil Shaw says.

Leaps and bounds

Business at FVS, which employs 29 veterinarians of whom 17 are specialists, has "at least doubled every year," Shaw says. The practice offers services in 11 veterinary medical disciplines.

Now serving more than 30,000 new and recheck visits annually, the brothers have opted to expand, adding a 6,000 square-foot space on to the 11,000 square-foot main structure.

Shaw practiced out of a 1,200 square-foot rented building just six years ago.

Dr. Neil Shaw attended the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine committed to working with cattle. "I kind of fell into this," Shaw says of his specialty practice. The closest competition is an hour away in Largo, Fla. "They don't even offer our range of services; they refer cases to us," he says.

"We've grown out of necessity, and the practice has always paid its way," he says. "No matter how big the building gets, I still want more space."

Veterinarians come first

Maybe that's because patients fill the hospital's rooms as fast as they open. At FVS, the latest in equipment and facilities can be found in every corner. Much of the testing turns around the same day.

Shaw attributes his success and ability to offer premium care to local veterinarians, their referrals and the human-animal bond they portray.

"The biggest factor fueling our growth and success is support from the veterinary community," he says. "We're an extension of the general practice; we won't do any general procedures.

"People who come here on referrals really value their pets as family; it's the future of veterinary medicine. Maintaining good relationships with local veterinarians is key."

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