From new grad to veterinary practice owner

dvm360dvm360 May 2021
Volume 55

I started my own practice 4 years after graduating from veterinary school. Here’s how.

Scott Neabore, DVM (images courtesy of Neabore Veterinary Clinic; photographer: Amanda Hall)

Scott Neabore, DVM (images courtesy of Neabore Veterinary Clinic; photographer: Amanda Hall)

Like many new graduates, I started my career in veterinary medicine with a 1-year small animal medicine and surgery internship. I followed that up with 3 years as an associate veterinarian at a corporate practice. Early on, I realized that building lasting relationships with clients and their pets was the best way for me to provide high-value, individualized veterinary care.

Although there were some benefits to working for a corporate practice, I often felt hindered by the many things that were out of my control. I decided to take a leap and go solo.

In May 2019, just 4 years after graduating from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts, I opened my own independent veterinary practice, Neabore Veterinary Clinic, in Haddonfield, New Jersey. It wasn’t easy, but as we near the 2-year mark with about 1800 clients, I couldn’t be more sure that I made the right choice—both personally and professionally.

Here’s how I started my own practice from scratch.

I found my “why”

Your “why” is your purpose—the thing that drives you. My why for starting a veterinary clinic was being able to practice medicine and business on my own terms. I also wanted to work as a small business owner in the community in which I lived. Knowing my why helped me develop a mission statement. This dictates everything we do as a business, from how we designed our exam rooms to what we post on social media and how staff members interact with clients.

I made sure I was in a good financial position

Knocking down debt

After making my first few student loan payments, I got a sinking feeling when I realized that fully half of my monthly salary was going toward paying back $200,000 in student debt. My wife and I quickly decided that paying off my student loans would be our top priority before doing anything else. It was a team effort: We cut expenses, lived on a meager monthly budget, and liquidated nearly all of our previous nonretirement savings and investments. I picked up lucrative emergency department shifts, often working weekends and overnights, on top of my regular general practice hours. My wife, a freelance writer, picked up extra gigs too. Through the experience of aggressively paying down student loan debt, I gained confidence and financial discipline that allowed me to quickly build up cash for startup costs and helped eliminate some of the financial stress and uncertainty around starting a business.

There are plenty of things to stress over when starting a veterinary clinic. Your personal finances shouldn’t be one of them. Before even thinking about taking the leap into practice ownership, I paid off nearly $200,000 in student loans. To keep interest from accruing on my business loan, I held off from borrowing as long as possible during the planning and construction process. I did this by investing about $30,000 of my own money into the business and banking another $40,000 to live off during the first few months of self-employment. As a startup, I prepared to go several months without drawing a salary. I took my first paycheck in month 5.

I created a space that matched my vision

After initially considering a location in a strip mall next to a big-box store that would have provided good exposure and lots of space to grow, I decided on a smaller, more intimate storefront. It’s on the old main street that connects the walkable, vibrant business districts of 3 neighboring towns. I felt like this space better fit my why.

I designed the clinic to be clean, welcoming, and bright with features such as a big picture window in the main exam room. There are also many personal touches throughout the hospital, such as portraits of staff pets in the lobby created by a local artist.

I assembled my team

Employee salary and benefits are a major expense. That’s why I started small—just me and 2 experienced technicians. I have since hired a third technician. We have no receptionist. We work around this with in-room, mobile checkouts. All 4 of us book appointments and answer the phone. Clients are pleasantly surprised when the doctor picks up.

I developed a (simple) marketing strategy

My marketing strategy is simple. Be good to people, and they’ll be good to you—and tell all their friends. Satisfied clients share recommendations with other local families by word-of-mouth and through social media. They give us 5-star reviews that have helped to enhance our online visibility. I share educational and entertaining social media posts via Facebook and Instagram several times a week. We promote other local businesses, and they promote us. Our paid advertising includes print and online ads in two local newspapers.

The bottom line

I’m proud of the business I’ve created in just a few years out of school. Practice ownership has perhaps become less common among recent grads than it once was, but for me the experience has proven extremely rewarding. I hope my story inspires other aspiring business owners. After all, spending your career working for someone else doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion in veterinary medicine.

Scott Neabore, DVM, owns Neabore Veterinary Clinic in Haddonfield, New Jersey. He is also a board member of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association.

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