High costs in a down economy
In the end, the endangered traditional practice may be the victim not only of the ideals of a younger generation but also
the profession's precarious financial status. For many, student debt, relatively low income, and the rising cost of providing
high-quality veterinary care may be the real barrier to ownership. The fact that the economy is down in addition to these
inherent challenges makes starting, maintaining, growing—and eventually selling—a business difficult.
"For newer graduates, I think financial issues could easily be related to the decrease in practice ownership," Moland says.
"With heavy student loan debt and comparatively low starting salaries, I would not have the ability to buy into an already
established practice for many years, and I can't risk starting a brand new practice, as doing so does not guarantee a paycheck."
And Moland was fortunate—she received scholarships that covered her undergraduate degree. Without that aid, she would have
carried more than $200,000 in debt before earning her first paycheck. "If I did plan to become a practice owner, I would not
currently be able to afford to buy into a practice without taking out additional loans, which is something I'm unwilling to
do with my student loan debt currently standing at $165,000," she says. "I'm gambling enough for the moment."
Cott says it takes about $3 million to open a successful practice today—$1 million for a prime location, $1 million for a
prime building and at least $500,000 to get started. "It's not a $40,000 investment," he says. "Today you've got to be state-of-the-art,
paperless—there's so much more to running a practice than there was 40 years ago."
Finch believes the key for young veterinarians who are interested in ownership will be mentorship. "Potential buyers will
need to see some role models of owning veterinarians who are happy and have a good work-life balance," she says. "I know they're
among us, but they'll need to be proactive in mentoring potential buyers."
Despite everything, several of Moland's classmates still hope to own within a few years of graduation. And for others who
choose not to own now, Moland says, "that doesn't mean they'll totally avoid owning a practice someday. But they might be
interested in it at a later point in their career."