Why an MBA didnt keep me from a CVPM

February 28, 2019
Erika Ervin, MBA, CVPM, CVT

Erika Ervin, MBA, CVPM, CVT is practice manager at Toms River Animal Hospital in Toms River, New Jersey. 

Earning my business masters degree taught me many things. Becoming a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager brought me opportunities beyond even that. Here are my thoughts on each.

This puppy wants to fit another hat on top of his hat. Should he do it? (Shutterstock.com)It was a long time ago when I decided I wasn't going to go to veterinary school. It never was something I'd been interested in pursuing. But I enjoyed the medical and scientific aspects of being a certified veterinary technician as well as the business aspects of the hospital. That's when I discovered the VHMA (Veterinary Hospital Managers Association) and their CVPM (Certified Veterinary Practice Manager) certification. Then I learned that to be eligible for a CVPM, you need college credits from business classes. I didn't have any of these from my undergraduate degree in biology, so an MBA was the best course of action.

What my MBA taught me

Most MBA courses focus on product industries. I found it challenging at times to apply my service industry to some of the scenarios, but this definitely helped me think outside the box and also made for some good discussions during class. For example, I had to do a little more thinking than most of my fellow students about how to apply supply chain management to the operations and business of a veterinary hospital. Thinking through these things helped me see scenarios from multiple points of view.

My biggest takeaway was the knowledge I gained about organizational behavior, managing different personalities and teams and emotional intelligence. I use these tools daily in my current management position.

The decision to earn a CVPM

In order to apply for the CVPM designation, you need to meet several criteria-holding a practice manager role for three of the past seven years is one of them. I didn't receive a promotion to practice manager until I graduated with the MBA.

I had to wait for that time to pass, but knew this was the next step for my career since the CVPM designation was something that would validate, in my opinion, my knowledge and experience with managing a veterinary hospital. The CVPM designation was something that was recognized industry-wide and was a great accomplishment-today, there are less than 1,000 people who hold the title.

During the three years of waiting to apply, I transitioned from private practice management to corporate practice management because I felt I would have more growth opportunities for my career going into the future.

My path to the CVPM

You can visit VHMA.org for the most up-to-date information on requirements for the CVPM certification. They include college credits, letters of recommendation, continuing education and years in position. The application process can be time consuming; it took me a good three weeks to complete and make sure it was 100 percent correct.

Then I needed to ensure that my letters of recommendation were submitted. Once the packet is sent in, it can take several weeks to hear if your application has been accepted. When it's accepted, you have two years to sit for the exam. That's right: this is the application process to just to apply to take the test. Once you pass the exam, you can call yourself a CVPM.

In my own experience, after about 18 months, I decided it was time to take the actual exam. I scheduled a date at the closest testing center.

What my CVPM brought me

I remember that day clearly: It was pouring rain. I arrived 30 minutes early and had a snack to eat in the car-I didn't want to be uncomfortable or hungry while I focused on the exam. The test took me two hours. Once I completed my review, I took a deep breath, clicked “submit,” and closed my eyes. I didn't know when to reopen them, so I squinted and peeked out to see if the screen had changed on the computer. It had, but I couldn't see it clearly to know what I was looking at yet.

I opened my eyes. The screen read “Congratulations!”

I am certain there was more to read, but I have no idea what it said because I began to tear up. I was proud and relieved all at the same time. All the hard work and effort had paid off. I would be recognized in the veterinary industry as an expert in management.

Obtaining the CVPM designation has also opened the door for other opportunities. I am on the editorial advisory board for an industry publication, and I'm often sought out for contributions to veterinary magazines or websites. I build my resume when I can cite articles I've written and contributions I've made.

There are many paths you can take to the CVPM. What worked the best for me was studying on my own and reading textbooks. Going for a master's degree for a better handle on general management concepts was beneficial for me, but may not be for everyone. However, I highly recommend that if you are someone who wants to pursue a career in veterinary management, you should consider creating a path to obtain the CVPM that works best for you.

Erika Ervin, MBA, CVPM, CVT is practice manager at Toms River Animal Hospital in Toms River, New Jersey.