Practice ownership perks
The Economics Division staff at AVMA shares the benefits to owning your own practice and offers some tips to get there
Whether you’re a newly graduated veterinarian or an established practitioner contemplating a different career path, consider this: There has never been a better opportunity for you to become your own boss, and the perks of practice ownership have never been more evident.
What does the data show?
Recent research by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) shows both the opportunity and the benefits of practice owner- ship. On the opportunity side, approximately 40% of practice-owning veterinarians are thinking of selling their practice in the next 5 years, according to findings from the 2021 AVMA Census of Veterinarians.1
What about the perks?
Practice owners have higher satisfaction rates than veterinarians in other job positions. They are more likely to be satisfied with their job, their compensation, and the profession in general. In terms of satisfaction with their lifestyle, practice owners rate second only to relief veterinarians.
There are also psychological benefits. Data from the AVMA census show practice owners are at less risk for burnout than associate veterinarians, even though many work longer hours. The reason is unclear from the research but may have something to do with owners having control over all aspects of the practice—everything from hours of operation to mission and culture. Then there are the personal rewards, such as greater engagement and the freedom to exercise one’s passion.
And there's more
Practice owners also enjoy certain financial perks:
- Paying oneself
- Power over deciding how much profit to reinvest and how much to take home
- Owning an asset that will increase in value over time
- Tax benefits
By contrast, incomes of associate veterinarians are limited to their direct salary and compensation, and those incomes average approximately $50,000 per year less than practice owners.
So what's holding you back?
Let’s consider some common concerns about practice ownership—and why they don’t need to make you dismiss this as a career path.
What about student debt?
It may seem counterintuitive, but student debt is no barrier to practice ownership from a business-financing perspective. A veterinary degree is an important asset, representing strong earning potential, and lenders recognize this. What’s more, buying a practice could help you pay off your student loans at a faster pace by generating more income for you while building equity in the business and increasing your net worth.
Intrigued? AVMA Axon has helpful webinars that explain in further detail how practice ownership can make financial sense, even for veterinarians with student debt.
What about the long hours?
When transitioning to the role of practice owner, work-life balance can certainly be a concern. Especially if you’re starting a practice from scratch, it may take a few years of focus and long hours to get the practice running the way you envisioned it. But this investment ultimately allows you control over the time you spend working and your own quality of life.
And you don’t need to do it all alone. When the AVMA brought together business experts, economists, and successful practitioners to identify what sets successful veterinary practices apart from others, one of the characteristics they identified was the owner’s ability and willingness to empower others.2 Work on overcoming any resistance you might have to delegating responsibilities and recruit someone to help. Delegating can be as good for the business as it is for you.
An important—and often underused—role is that of credentialed veterinary technicians (CVTs). When we make full use of the skills of our CVTs, the whole practice operates more efficiently. This can translate to more free time for you, allowing you to focus on your passion. Plus, CVTs feel more challenged, satisfied, and valued at work— the whole team wins.
What about the management aspect?
There’s no getting around it. Successful practice ownership requires leadership and communication skills, business acumen, and an ability to delegate, among other skills. Data indicate that the top reason veterinarians cite for having no interest in buying a practice is having no interest in the management aspects. Other than retirement, the top reason owners give for selling their practice is being tired of the management duties, cited by 14% of those thinking of selling.
Maybe it’s time for both groups to reconsider. As a practice owner, you make the staffing decisions, which can include hiring to cover your weaknesses or hiring individuals capable of handling the things you’d rather not be responsible for. This might translate to hiring a practice manager or developing one of your existing staff members to take on these duties.
Such a decision makes financial sense, too. According to the AVMA census, every hour a veterinarian spends performing management duties is an hour that could be spent seeing patients instead, a difference of approximately $300 in revenue.
You can select a manager to suit your particular needs and desires, with responsibilities ranging from managing support staff and day-to-day accounting (an office manager) to running the whole business (a hospital administrator).3 Or if you just want help making business decisions, you can contract the services of an accountant, attorney, or other expert.
Whether you embrace practice management duties or would rather delegate them, several programs are available to nurture the skills needed to run a successful practice. Take advantage of the business and leadership courses offered at an AVMA Convention and on AVMA Axon. If those make you want to dig deeper, there are plenty of opportunities to enroll in a formal veterinary management program.
More resources to draw on
The AVMA also offers a wealth of resources to help make practice management easier and more efficient. One is the standard chart of accounts, recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association, Veterinary Management Group, and other professional organizations. This helpful tool provides an efficient way to capture and assess financial health of a veterinary practice. Find it at avma.org/Accounting.
Additionally, AVMA’s suite of practice management tools cover the gamut of management issues, including the following:
- Growing profitability
- Leading teams
- Marketing and building client relationships
- Managing operations
- Embracing telemedicine
The bottom line
If you are not already a practice owner, now is an opportune time to consider becoming one. Ownership can bring with it substantial benefits, including a lower risk of burnout, being your own boss, and paying off student debt faster than possible in a staff role, to name but a few. The practice itself is also something that can grow and become a valuable liquid asset.
If you are already a practice owner, consider mentoring early-career veterinarians to foster the skills and desire to one day lead or buy a practice—maybe your practice. Mentorship can be personally rewarding, help you share your own workload, and strengthen the veterinary profession for years to come.
- Nolan RS. Fierce competition over veterinary labor. JAVMA News. December 1, 2021. Accessed June 22, 2022. www.avma.org/ javma-news/2021-12-01/fierce-competition-over-veterinary-labor
- 5 secrets of successful practices. American Veterinary Medical Association. Accessed May 26, 2022. www.avma.org/system/files/2020-10/ MCM-StayCompetitive-5-Steps-Successful-Practice-Flyer-v6.pdf
- Practice owner tools. Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. Accessed May 20, 2022. www.vhma.org/resources/practice-owner-tools