Practice For Profit-Dare to stray from the herd


The first lesson I try to implant is that average ain't good enough today.

I just finished reviewing the latest (Third Edition) American Animal Hospital Association's Veterinary Fee Reference. Here is how it works: You load it up with your fees and it tells you, more or less, how you compare with the rest of the veterinary world. It is an excellently crafted tool.

My real question is: Why?

Why do you want to, need to or aspire to be anything like your neighbors?

Most veterinarians are very much like lobsters. No, I'm not referring to their hard exteriors and sweet insides. Lobsters in a tank will all pile up in one corner. When one climbs over the top lobster and aspires to stick his or her head out of the water, the rest will pull him or her back.

Zebras are very much like that, too, but for an evolutionary sound reason. When a zebra is too sick to eat, they will pretend to eat by lowering their heads to the ground. This is because the lions stalking the herd are looking for any sign of weakness, and no healthy zebra passes up a meal even though it might be salad.

The song says, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", and most veterinarians today just wanna be average. It makes me wanna gag!

The first lesson that I try to implant in my consulting clients is that average ain't good enough today!

If seeing your practice mirrored in statistics generated by DVM and its sister publication Veterinary Economics brings you some measure of complacency, go home and tell your spouse, "Honey, you better get yourself a very good-paying job because we ain't gonna' retire well on what I will be able to sell the practice for!"

I expect my consulting clients to do at least 30-40 percent better than average, and they do consistently beat the pants off their neighboring practices.

Ever thought about why six, 10 and 11 o'clock news programs are so popular. They're a cop-out! Mediocre people who struggled to get through yet another day can go home and watch how terrible the world is, and say to themselves: "No wonder I can't achieve more; this is a terrible society and a worse world."

You like statistics? I'll give you the real story of being a veterinarian. After consulting in more than 300 practices and getting some 30 calls, faxes and e-mails every day from you and your neighbors, I'll give you my statistics from practice before consultation. Just remember that statisticians can drown in a river with an average depth of six inches!

Ninety-four percent of veterinary spouses have to put up with some emergency calls at home when the hospital is closed.

Forty-three percent of spouses are unpaid employees at their animal hospital. Of these, 36 percent do bookkeeping; 31 percent do reception; 16 percent are assistants, and 4 percent even do some kennel work.

Seventeen percent also handle advertising and public relations. Only 31 percent of veterinary spouses do the above for any kind of salary. Does that add up to 100 percent? No, but what survey does?

Fifteen percent say that they do not work in any way at the hospital, but they support their spouse from home base.

Vacation days for spouses ranged from zero to 20 days with an average of 12 days.

Working spouses received three to seven national holidays off without pay (Avg. four).

Twenty-three percent sacrificed their veterinary spouse's company on vacation due to practice duties (including sitting around at meeting locations while their professional spouse took continuing education classes).

Sixty-eight percent of veterinarians considered continuing education time part of vacation time, coming back to the practice more worn out than when they left, not to mention jet lagged!

Thirty-nine percent thought that their vacations should be scheduled to meet continuing education requirements for their state.

All spouses (91 percent) surveyed participated in social, religious and civic activities at the rate of one to four hours per month. Sixty-percent thought it benefited the practice somewhat, 24 percent slightly, and the rest compared it to root-canal surgery. None thought it was either very effective.

Seventeen percent married before veterinary school, 42 percent during and 41 percent after graduation.

Sixty-four percent of spouses discussed the practice almost every day, 36 percent occasionally.

Forty-five percent thought other professions were much more rewarding; 17 percent thought they were the same. Not one thought greater.

Spouses thought their veterinarians worked from 44-74 hours per week. Their average was 59 hours.

Spouses said their veterinarians earned from $29 to $55 per hour.

Seventy-six percent thought their veterinarians undercharged for services. Twenty-four percent did not.

Avg. hourly income ($31.90) x avg. reported hours (53) x 50 weeks per year amounted to an average take-home (before taxes) of $84,535. This also included return on investment (Ha!) and return on management (Ha! Again!)

Lowest salary $23.00 x least hours (44) x least time worked (including CE) 51 weeks = $51,612 per year.

Highest salary/hour $62 x most hours (64) x most time off (9 weeks) = $170,624 per year.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy once told the story of the farmer who said ... "I sure hope I break even this year, 'cause I sure need the money!" Maybe, Lincoln should have included veterinarians and their spouses in the Emancipation Proclamation.

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