Rules-based behavior is not principles-based behavior. Principles should trump rules to stay true to any profession's aspirations of duty and responsibility
to the public good.
Unlike the veterinary profession, the accounting profession requires ethics education to renew licensure. In Ohio, the equivalent
of one hour of ethics education per year must be completed and satisfactorily tested to maintain licensure as a certified
public accountant. This paper's author has derived the following quote from ethics coursework completed for Ohio CPA license
renewal. It captures the essence of professional and ethical behavior as an idea for the veterinary profession:
"To strive to behave not only in a manner that conforms to the minimum standards established by veterinary medical law and
professional standards, but also aspire to behave in conformance with the spirit of veterinary law and professional standards.
The purpose of the law and the professional standards is to protect the public and recognize the DVM's responsibility to the
Using core values to solve cost-of-care dilemmas
When practice leaders aspire to behave in conformance with the spirit of the law and professional standards, they usually
have a strong sense of their core values. These core values are often traced to the very drivers for pursuing a career in
the veterinary profession.
Although veterinary practice is predominantly based in the for-profit realm of American business, it is possible to use core
values and vision to achieve philanthropic goals. We strongly encourage on-going strategic planning dialogue that leads to
clear practice objectives.
Truly vibrant, strong veterinary practices have leaders with a clear sense of core values, vision and business purpose. The
for-profit goal of returning value to shareholders is not exclusive of finding a way to adequately meet the health needs of
"indigent pets". This is not to say a veterinary practice or veterinarian can be all things to all people; however, it is
possible to establish clear delineation of practice parameters for choosing practice style, client types and financial structure
that will fit with owner objectives and core values.
Core values are both a rudder and an anchor for practice directors to decide when, how, where and the extent of philanthropy.
Only through a clearly stated direction can owners provide the stewardship a practice must have to financially subsidize the
predetermined level of care with adequate equipment, technology, employee talent and infrastructure. Core values underlie
the rules employees live by and guide their daily decisions, including how to charge appropriately for veterinary care and
generate profit. Adequate cash flow gives flexibility for benevolence.
Without core values, standards of care can't exist. Doctors and other employees follow their own rules or make them up on
the fly. Core values help everyone associated with the practice pull in the same direction and act out the original intent.
They lead to precise goals against which to critique, measure and review employees' actions, as well as practice performance
from a pure business investment perspective.
Core values are very philosophic in nature. Ask: How do we want to be? How should we act in the spirit of the law, professional
standards and our core beliefs? How do we measure and hold accountable our performance against the ruler of core values?"
Let the free markets reign
Ultimately, American veterinarians practice almost exclusively in the capital arena that demands attention to competitive
forces, market pressures and mounting costs of operation. To a great extent, the success of one practice as compared to another
very much relates to long-term profitability.
In their personal service business, veterinary practice CFO's must be cognizant of all strategies that enhance name recognition
and reputation, word-of-mouth referral and client-perceived value. We encourage positive public relations through well-planned
budgets that will support philanthropic efforts.
Although we would hope the veterinary profession as a whole could widely publicize such philanthropic efforts through private
for-profit ventures, the real work falls to the individual veterinary practice owner. Proactively embrace a long-term strategic
plan based on inviolate core values and leadership's commitment to the spirit of civic and professional responsibility. Thoughtfully
plot the financial requirements to support these values and activities. Assure positive community perception through professional,
subtle, yet persistent, publicity.
Through such efforts, veterinary practices should find their appropriate service and clientele niche. Maintain the right level
of fees and financial wherewithal to match the predetermined degree of philanthropic service to the practice's indigent animal
and client need.
1. Martin SA. Professional Standards and Ethical Responsibilities for Certified Public Accountants. Columbus, OH: The Ohio Society
of Certified Public Accountants; 2004:1.
2. Martin SA. Professional Standards and Ethical Responsibilities for Certified Public Accountants. Columbus, OH: The Ohio Society
of Certified Public Accountants; 2004:4.
3. Martin SA. Professional Standards and Ethical Responsibilities for Certified Public Accountants. Columbus, OH: The Ohio Society
of Certified Public Accountants; 2004:10.
Dr. Heinke is owner of Marsha L. Heinke, CPA, Inc. and can be reached at (440) 926-3800 or via e-mail at