Is practice ownership right for you?
Learn whether you should become a practice owner, plus tips on starting this journey and being successful.
In this era of increasing corporatization of veterinary medicine, you may be wondering whether practice ownership is right for you. After working long hours to finish veterinary school, it may feel like time for a break from pushing yourself to do more. But owning your practice means owning your destiny, managing your life on your time, and practicing medicine your way.
Although increasing corporate ownership and widespread uncertainty may be unsettling, the disruption that comes with change is an opportunity to innovate and reinvent yourself and your profession. Who says practice ownership means working 7 days a week and never taking a vacation?
With a bit of ingenuity and a few financial calculations, you can design a practice that allows you to balance life, take great care of patients, deliver value to customers, and put money in your bank account. After all, corporations and private equity are profiting from veterinary health care, so why shouldn’t you? Where do you start?
You can own your practice
Just thinking about practice ownership may feel daunting and overwhelming. It is a large purchase, a big commitment, and you may question whether you are qualified or ready. If you can calculate drug doses, diagnose complex medical conditions, and manage client emotions, you are more than capable of learning the leadership and accounting skills to manage a business. The fact that you are a licensed veterinarian means you have the intelligence and discipline to own a practice and profit financially and professionally.
You will make money
Veterinary health care is a robust market with plenty of room for owners to profit. Private equity and large corporations invest in your profession because they profit from the veterinary health care team’s labor. After paying your salary as a veterinarian, your support team’s hourly wages and other expenses, these large enterprising businesses put money in their pocket as profit. They also build equity or value in the practice that can be sold for additional profit.
In a 2019 report by the California Veterinary Medical Association,1 veterinarian owners reported higher wages than employed veterinarians with 38% of owners earning greater than $161,000 per year compared to only 29% of associates reporting similar wages. And more veterinarian owners reported increased gross revenue (money generated before subtracting expenses) and increased profit (money available to pay owner after paying expenses) in 2019 than in previous study years.
Why wouldn’t you own and earn more money for your work?
You can prepare yourself for ownership
You may not be ready to own. But at some point, in your life, you were not ready to be a veterinarian either. It is heart-breaking to hear veterinarians proclaim they just aren’t “good at business.” You learned the Krebs cycle and organic chemistry to prepare for clinical practice. You can learn to read P&L statements and balance sheets to prepare for practice ownership.
Follow a process of exploration and analysis to avoid feeling overwhelmed and overcome obstacles.
Reflect on your personality traits, values, and skills.
Self-reflection is the first step on your journey. Whether you graduated from veterinary school in the last year or the last decade, revisit your values and professional and personal goals as the foundation for deciding upon practice ownership.
- Personality: If you are interested in obtaining a better understanding of your personality, there are sites available for free or low-cost personality testing such as https://www.123test.com/ or https://www.truity.com/. However, experts disagree about personality traits and your ability to change, so don’t take test results too seriously. I learned from my own journey that understanding myself allows me to consciously work toward adding to my toolbox of skills and competencies. I have completed Myers-Briggs testing several times and found I changed from a “J” (judging person) to a “P” (perceiving person). I remain an “I” (introvert) but have developed skills that allow me to start a conversation with anyone and lecture to large audiences. Use personality test results to help you understand how to enhance your personality.
- Values: Clarifying your values helps you pursue goals that will bring you peace and satisfaction. If you have a passion for providing care to pet owners with constrained resources, buying a practice focused on high margins and bells and whistles is discordant with your values. Discordance will lead to stress and possibly failure because you may be tempted to reduce prices to live up to your values and then suffer financial losses. For a better understanding of your values, check out this free values test: https://www.valuescentre.com/
- Skills: Practice management skills can be learned from a variety of organizations and there are good textbooks available as well. Don’t underestimate the value of hiring a coach to help you with this phase of your journey.
Explore options and research opportunities
I am sure you readily discuss cases with colleagues and specialists and spend time researching diseases and treatment options for difficult cases. The same goes for practice ownership.
Connect with colleagues, practice brokers, management consultants, lenders, and real estate agents to tap their expertise. Don’t be afraid to request an informational interview to get a new perspective on practice ownership. Connect virtually through LinkedIn or at in-person conferences as they return to live events. While consultants and coaches may charge for their services, they often will extend a short introductory meeting at no charge to ensure there is a good fit. Conversations with lenders, brokers, and real estate agents are generally free because their fees are paid when you make use of their services.
The most important part of this phase is to keep an open mind and explore all options fully to understand what you like and don’t like. This is your time to gather and analyze information and try new ideas for fit.
Create SMART goals to maintain momentum
Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Planning to call 3 practice brokers in the next month to understand their approach to representing buyers and sellers is a SMART goal. Planning to buy a practice within the next 30 days is likely not a SMART goal—your dream practice may not be available for sale within the next 30 days and finding and closing on finance is not likely to happen in that short time.
Although “stretch” goals may inspire you to work harder to achieve something just outside your reach, they can lead to burnout because you may repeatedly fail to meet your goals. On the other hand, having SMART goals keeps you motivated, focused, and rewards those small incremental steps toward ownership.
Tell a friend, family member, or colleague about your goals and commitments.
Telling someone about a goal or commitment increases the likelihood you will follow through. Plus, it’s great to have the additional support and perspective. Ask for direct feedback for additional insight on personal growth. Simple questions like, “What do I do well?” or “What can I improve?” make it easier for your connections to offer you information about yourself you may not know. For example, someone told me I am highly competitive. I was dumbfounded to learn something so obvious to others yet hidden to myself. Once aware, I was able to manage this personality trait with compassion for myself to alleviate the stress I feel and develop skills to harness the power of competition.
Creating and following a process for exploration provides structure to increase your success. Stay disciplined and resolved but be kind and patient with yourself. Keep an open mind, make small decisions, and experiment. Don’t pressure yourself to make decisions if you aren’t ready. Seek expert advice as you consider your options. Just like you wouldn’t hesitate to refer your patient for a complex condition or treatment, don’t hesitate to find expert help to get through this important process. Plan for things to take longer than you anticipated and recognize you will experience disappointment, frustration, and failure as you explore your options. Failure is a part of learning and stress is a part of growth. The tangible and intangible rewards of ownership outweigh the hardships.
You will enjoy ownership
Research shows increasing numbers of people are disconnected from their work—checking boxes and punching time clocks simply to bring home a paycheck. Management adds layers of policies, rewards, and punishments to force engagement and improve quality. You didn’t sacrifice time and money to become a veterinarian to check boxes and adhere to policies. You became a veterinarian because you enjoy caring for animals and helping people. Job satisfaction is driven by autonomy over your work, mastery of your craft, and a sense of purpose. When you own your practice, you own your destiny, your medicine, and your profession.
- 2019 Economic Issues Survey of California Veterinarians and RVTs. California Veterinary Medical Association, August 2019.