Forge your own path


Associates do it. Corporations do it. Even educated managers do it. Let's do it. Let's talk about buying a veterinary practice (when you're NOT the doctor).

You love your job as a receptionist, veterinary technician or practice manager. You enjoy the challenging, ever-changing and non-predictable world you work in. At night, when you go home exhausted or exhilarated, you sometimes wonder, “Is this what I want to do for the rest of my career?” You love what you do but you know that there will come a time that your salary reaches a ceiling. Or maybe those aches and pains from all those years of lifting and restraining are finally taking their toll.

Pause to consider owning

So you want to move up the ladder where you are right now? There are many avenues to take and many roads to travel. But have you ever considered forging your own trail by owning a practice? Many states allow non-DVMs to own practices. If you love your independent clinic and don't want to see it be sold to a corporate conglomerate, maybe you should buy it!

I've worked in the same clinic for more than 20 years. And four years ago this month, I became a co-owner of my beloved hospital. The dvm360 Future of Veterinary Medicine Study asked if your state offered the opportunity for a manager to own, would you be interested in practice ownership. Here's what managers said:

If you decide to side-step the ladder climb and buy the ladder, there are several steps to owning you should take before the big buy occurs. Click to the next page for a checklist of advice.

1. Find out if your state allows nonveterinary ownership. (This chart will help.)

2. Educate yourself. Make sure you're ready for ownership. For example, becoming a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM) will educate you on all functions of practice management. Or you could pursue an MBA for more all-around business knowledge.

3. If you work at the hospital, start a discussion with current practice owners about their exit strategies. Find out if they're open to selling to you.

4. Decide how you want to own. Do you want to be the sole owner or have other business partners? It may be a good idea to consider owning with at least one veterinarian who serve as medical director. Then you don't have to worry about not having a doctor available to practice. You will share ownership, responsibility and accountability.

5. Next, have the owner get a practice valuation and determine how you will finance the purchase. Many owners are willing to provide financing, giving themselves a steady monthly income and a feeling of still being involved.

6. Decide how you will structure your practice. Will it be an LLC, a sole proprietorship or a corporation? (For the pros and cons of each, read this.) Get the advice of an accountant and a lawyer on what will work best for your situation. If you have partners, make sure you have an agreement in place before you finalize the purchase.

7. If you will partner with others, make sure you discuss each partner's ownership roles so you know what to expect of each other. (Here's a quick look at expectations vs. reality in partnerships.)

8. Negotiate the purchase price including good will and all the contents of the practice. Make sure the seller is just as clear as you are on what stays and what goes-that includes the owner. Make sure you are clear on how their employment will continue or not after the purchase.

9. Prepare to WORK HARD. If you thought you were busy before, you have no idea what's coming. Remember, if you weren't already, now you're definitely on emergency speed dial for anything that goes wrong at the practice, day or night.

10. Once you are settled into your ownership position, now it is time to work on YOUR exit strategy. Strategic planning for the future growth of your practice is integral to being able to exit with enough income for retirement.

The sky is the limit when you decide to own a practice. Just make sure you think it through completely before jumping!

Tricia Eagle is practice manager and co-owner of Ashby Animal Clinic in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

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