An early exit out of practice


Making money doesn't guarantee a successful and rewarding career or an enjoyable retirement. What you do with the money's far more important.

Chickenpox is a childhood disease, right? That's what I thought until my physician told me I had chickenpox—at age 53. I almost died of complications associated with the disease. What followed led me to change the focus of my life and my career.

Dr. Larry Peetz

Like most veterinarians, I believed I'd work until I decided to sell my practice and live the good life into a ripe old age. I hadn't considered that I might not be able to practice medicine.

Sure, I had disability income protection insurance but only because someone said it was a good idea. Besides, I had attended numerous practice management seminars; read all the journals and management books; and had consulted with my insurance agent, my accountant, and my banker. I was prepared to face unexpected events, right? Wrong.

Weathering the illness

On Oct. 20, 1998, I awoke feeling lousy. But it was my father's 80th birthday, and I wasn't about to miss the celebration. By noon, I was back home. I went to work for the next three days because I rarely called in sick. When I finally went to my doctor, he made the diagnosis of varicella-zoster virus, or chickenpox. He said I'd be very sick for a couple of weeks and advised me to go home, keep still, and let him know how I was doing in a few days.

The next two weeks were awful. For adults, chickenpox is a very serious disease. I was in bed with a fever of 102.5 to 104 degrees and a heart rate of 140 to 160 beats per minute. I couldn't eat. I lost 20 pounds and became very weak—so weak that I could only stand for a few minutes, and I couldn't concentrate. What's more, I was a solo practitioner, obviously unable to work and with no contingency plan. Luckily, I found a relief doctor through the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association newsletter. But we had to cut back the times the clinic was open and refer emergencies to a local clinic.

Ensuring that you’re insured

Then just when I should have been returning to work, I began to develop secondary complications. My joints began to swell. I lost vision in my left eye and developed symptoms of heart problems associated with a vascular blockage. Later, my doctor discovered that I had developed a post-viral, immune-mediated vasculitis.

I then realized I would be out for an extended period, and the first relief veterinarian was only filling in for a few days, so I hired another temporary veterinarian to keep things running. It was difficult to find someone to fill in because my practice was open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and I took my own emergencies; however, I found a veterinarian willing to work temporarily. Fortunately, my wife was the office manager, and I had excellent staff members and exceptional clients who were devoted to their pets, to our practice, and to our standard of care. For that reason the practice was able to sustain itself for several months as we searched for the right temporary veterinarian to replace me in the practice.

Meanwhile, I was hospitalized for cardiac catheterization and had a stint placed in a coronary artery on Jan. 13, 1999. By spring, I was certain I wouldn't return to practice. Much to our dismay, my wife and I knew we had to sell.

Saying goodbye

Like many of you, I had invested years of hard work and more than $250,000 obtaining my degree and establishing a veterinary practice. Now, because of a lack of planning, all that I had worked for was in jeopardy. Plus, I was making hard decisions that affected me and my family members—and my staff members and their families—under stressful circumstances and less-than-desirable conditions.

The essential components of a financial plan

As my illness progressed, I watched my practice volume, in terms of revenue and client visits, decline. And we were having a difficult time finding a suitable full-time replacement. Rather than wait until the practice wasn't worth anything, I decided to approach a veterinary practice broker whom I'd known for years. He knew a veterinarian in town who was interested in expanding his client base. With the help of the broker, we quickly came to an agreement and merged my practice into his. Fortunately, my staff members, most of whom had worked for me for years, initially secured employment with the veterinarian who purchased my practice; however, eventually they sought employment elsewhere.

The sale of the practice left me devastated. I was completely unprepared for the feelings of helplessness and worthlessness I experienced. My identity was tied to being a veterinarian, and now that I couldn't practice, I wasn't sure who I was. This was the most difficult time of my life. Plus, I was devastated financially. I felt like I had failed myself, my family, and my staff members.

Facing the future

For 30 years, I did what I loved, helping sick and injured animals. I also helped pets' owners understand that paying for professional veterinary care was a sound investment. I foolishly thought I could also single-handedly handle my investments and risk management, rejecting the notion that I should pay someone to assist me.

After the practice sold and the fog of fear and depression finally cleared, I realized I couldn't do this on my own. I needed the help of a professional. Today, six years later, I am pleased to say things look altogether different. And to keep others from going through the hardships I experienced, I've become a financial planner.

As most of us know by experience, or through observing others in our profession, making money doesn't guarantee a successful and rewarding career or an enjoyable retirement. What you do with the money you make is far more important to your success.

Unfortunately, financial planning is often approached haphazardly or put on the back burner—something to be done after the "important tasks" of running a busy practice and managing a busy life. But do you know how your premature death or a long-term disability would affect your family, your employees, and your business? Are you aware of the affect that such active management as quarterly rebalancing, asset allocation, and diversification can have on returns of invested assets? Do you fully understand the impact that estate planning, or lack thereof, can have on tax reduction, business transfer, and estate value available to future generations? No? I suggest your financial situation be placed higher on the priority list.

I once thought I was invincible and somehow things would magically fall into place. I now understand the importance and value of planning. I assure you, once you review your financial situation, you'll begin to develop peace of mind—which frees you up to concentrate on those things that bring real value to your life.

Editors' note: Do you have an "I Survived!" story? Please write to

The bottom line

“You can’t tell the future, but your future might have a thing or two to tell you,” says Dr. Peetz. His advice: Plan for your financial future early, and get professional financial advice to help protect against unforeseen events.

Dr. Larry Peetz, a certified senior advisor, practiced small animal medicine for 30 years before exiting practice and becoming a financial consultant. Send questions or comments to

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