Letter to dvm360: Buyer beware on internship opportunities

February 17, 2017

While it may seem like an ideal coaching situation, this practice owner internship may not benefit the participants as much as the directors.

As a practice owner and former intern I read with great interest the article “Veterinarian launches 'Practice Owner Incubator Internship'” in the February issue of dvm360 magazine. There is no doubt that veterinary graduates often lack the formal training and business skills to successfully purchase and manage a veterinary practice. Dr. Michael Dicks, the AVMA's lead economist, has cited a lack of business training as one reason why some veterinary practice owners continue to struggle financially.

The word “internship” associated with this endeavor drew my attention. Veterinary internships are criticized for having no governing body, no accountability, no oversight and no quality control-truly a “buyer beware” marketplace. After reading this article and consulting the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians' Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program website regarding this “internship,” I'm concerned that it is potentially the poster child for these valid concerns.

From what I understand, the intern, after completing the internship (having been paid intern wages), will earn the privilege of purchasing 20 percent of a practice. They will then work diligently to increase the profitability and value of the practice but only be entitled to 20 percent of the practice's net profits. Worse yet, when and if they buy out the additional 80 percent, they will likely have to pay for 80 percent of the practice's increased value, which they themselves will have created.

Wouldn't it be a better financial option for this veterinarian to find the financial backing that would allow them to buy their own practice and reap all the financial benefits of being a practice owner? After all, if this internship provides the financial and managerial skills necessary to purchase and operate a practice (as it says it will), the intern should no longer need their hand held and should not have anyone's hands in their financial pockets. I would call this “internship” an ingeniously creative stream of income for the internship director and his business partner.

The take-home lesson is this: Whether you're purchasing all or part of a practice, always use an independent, savvy financial advisor who will represent your financial interests and your interests alone. Since the intern director and his business partner will be financially benefiting from this particular relationship, this is especially important in this circumstance. And remember the internship process is the modern-day equivalent of the wild west. Be careful, and remember, caveat emptor-let the buyer beware.

Name withheld upon request