Old School, New School: Boss or be bossed?


That is the question thats been driving Dr. Greenskin mad for months. But now that she knows Dr. Codger is considering a corporate buyout if she backs out, her muddled musings have become more focused (though no more decided).

Illustration by Ryan OstranderIn the wake of the unannounced visit from Practice Gobblers Inc.-Dr. Greenskin's affectionate name for the sharp-dressed trio from last month's column-the young associate has been more pensive about the big decision ahead. In an attempt to calm herself down, she reminds herself that no decision is permanent and that the future holds options regardless of the way things head for Dr. Codger's practice. Nevertheless, she knows that if the practice goes corporate, she goes corporate, which isn't exactly an idea she finds savory.

This month we're delving into an intimate exploration of Dr. Greenskin's tumultuous thoughts and jumbled emotions as she ponders whether to own or not to own-a decision that may alter the course of human history as we know it.

Patient care

To own: Wouldn't it be great to be able to exercise full control over how we treat our patients and clients? I could develop the practice philosophy and make sure the entire team is onboard with my vision. I also like the idea of mentoring future associates and making sure we hire doctors who fit our mission. As a toxic team member watchdog, I would do everything in my power to create a healthy workplace culture.

Not to own: Most of my corporate colleagues do seem pretty happy with their ability to practice their own way. I think that's changed for the better over the past decade. Yet I think there would still be limitations as a corporate associate-things like what products we stock and relationships with vendors and referral services-that I'll just have to adapt to. I'm willing to bet, however, that the work environment actually has more to do with the local team and that any given corporate practice has as much of a shot at a healthy culture as an independently held one.

Work-life balance

To own: This could be pretty much nonexistent for a good many years, so I would really need to love it. I want to have kids someday, and I want to be involved in their lives, so I wonder if that could be a deal breaker. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to be super busy while my children are young if it meant I could have more control over my schedule in five to 10 years when they're older and have more going on. Plus, retirement might look better with this option.

Not to own: Sure, I could have a nicer schedule and actually be off when I'm “off.” But that would most likely be the case in perpetuity since I don't know if associate life would ever allow me to pay off my student loans and retire. So while the day-to-day outlook may appear better, that outlook would probably remain static for much of my natural life. In other words, I would really need to love it. I also have to take into account the constant squeeze of reduced scheduling flexibility because I'd need to keep up my “performance” and prove my worth to the powers that be.

Basic needs (also known as benefits)

To own: It would be a huge responsibility to make sure the entire team has what they need. Dr. Codger doesn't provide health insurance for many of his employees, so you can forget about dental and vision. And I guess he doesn't figure that any of his team would ever care to retire since he won't even entertain the thought of starting a 401(k) program. Why does seemingly every other industry or job offer some retirement planning option to their employees? Do we in vet med believe our work is so noble that retirement doesn't apply to us? I would want to do much better by all of our dedicated employees, but I'm sure that's difficult to impossible for a small business in today's environment. And with the sale price that Dr. Codger is talking about, there wouldn't be much (if any) wiggle room for new expenditures. If I want to do better in this department, I would need to bake benefits into my plan for buying the practice at the beginning.

Not to own: If the practice goes corporate, I have a much better chance of some (relatively) decent benefits being covered, and the employees (whoever decides to stay, anyway) would for sure be better off in that department. This pisses me off a little bit-that only big corporations are able to offer anything that resembles decent benefits to their employees. It makes me wonder if this situation is unique to vet med or if it's a theme in most American industries. Then again, I can't help but think of all the downsides of working for a corporation: the red tape, the protocols, the politics, the endless training modules I swear were designed to waste employees' time, and the lack of control over my future. I suppose the corporate monster offers the perceived benefit of being able to move up the ladder, but that will only happen for a select few who are uniquely talented at dealing with all of the corporate mumbo jumbo. I have no idea if I could or would want to adapt to that lifestyle. I wonder if I should take a few months to work for a corporate practice just to see if I might actually enjoy it. Don't knock it till you try it, right?

The future of Dr. Codger's practice

To own: I like to think I have a great relationship with the vast majority of our clients, but I wonder if I might be giving myself a tad too much credit. I also wonder if the veterinarian-client relationship is as important to clients as I make it out to be. I'm beginning to feel like veterinarians are a commodity to most people. I feel like back in Codger's good ole days, most clients wanted to know their veterinarian on a more personal level-or at least more than they do know. It seems like my clients feel that taking their pet to the vet is just like every other item on their to-do list, such as dropping off the dry cleaning or getting their oil changed. Do I really want to go out on a limb and take on this huge burden if our clients aren't with me 100 percent? Or do I need to forget about all of that and honestly say that I'm buying the practice for my own future and benefit?

Not to own: I don't think Dr. Codger would do anything truly reckless with the future of his practice. I know he cares deeply about his longtime employees and clients, even though most days it seems like he doesn't give a rat's patootie. So in this regard, I think I need to be a little more humble and understand that my own feelings and emotions have very little to do with what might happen to our team and clients. Corporate practices have grown for a reason, and I doubt they would have much success if clients or team members routinely felt underappreciated, abused, ignored or otherwise mistreated. Perhaps I need to reevaluate whether I can stomach a business mentality that might be essential to my success as a practice owner.

Which way is Dr. Greenskin going to go? Nobody knows at this point, but as the big day looms nearer, it certainly seems as if the future of animal and human health alike hang in the balance. The impact of her decision could ripple along for eons, affecting millions of trillions of sick pets and their desperate owners.

Are you itching to weigh in and affect this decision? Please write to Dr. Greenskin (you could write to Dr. Codger, but he's probably too busy hitting the links to read your message) at dvmnews@ubm.com. But hurry-there may not be much time left for you to have an everlasting impact on the future of Dr. Codger's practice and veterinary medicine as we know it. Stay tuned for more Old School, New School.

Dr. Jeremy Campfield lives near Sacramento with his family, including an aging mini Aussie and an obstreperous pitbull mix that some mistake for a chocolate Lab (to the delight of her owners). When the family is not getting their hands dirty in the garden, Dr. Campfield indulges in his love for the outdoors with hiking, kitesurfing and climbing aboard any two-wheeled contraption. Please remember: Watch for cyclists, share the road, and pass them like you love them!

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