No: 2 Abandon the traditional model
Increasingly, the small practice model (one or two veterinarians) is not financially viable and cannot compete with large
practices. The majority of practice owners leave school with little or no business education or experience and a quarter of
veterinarians say they know nothing about finances, resulting in a swath of poorly managed practices. This business burden
hits vulnerable small practices especially hard.
The shift to larger practices—while still filling the niche market for boutique medicine—would improve the financial, and
possibly emotional, health of the profession.
"It's going to happen whether it helps or not," says Michael Paul, DVM, speaker, columnist and principal of Magpie Veterinary
Consulting. The general care days are over—practices that only do spay, neuters, vaccinations, heartworm preventive and so
on are "on their deathbed," he says. "It would be very, very hard for one doctor or a small practice to provide parallel care
that a large practice could. We've gotten too sophisticated."
However, the profession can do little about the individual choices of its less-business-savvy members. "That said, the smart
thing to do is for associate veterinarians to seek work in larger practices, and for one- or two-doctor practices to attempt
to grow through consolidation," Volk says. "There are many benefits to larger practices, include efficiencies in capital expenditures,
flexibilities in work schedules and more 'brains' to contribute ideas to help the practice grow."
Felsted says it may not be the small practice model itself but the individual owner who makes or breaks the business. She
says a small practice can sometimes provide personalized services and long-term relationships that large practices can't match.
"What it comes down to is the talents and the interest of the individual owners and their ability to find a niche that works,"
And Paul adds that there's always a niche market for boutique care. "If I were a single veterinarian, I'd say, 'You can call
me 24-7,'" he says. But, he warns, "veterinarians have made such big investments, they're not willing to rethink them."
Those practice owners who report that they're doing poorly financially and who run a traditional small practice might think
of reinventing themselves into a concierge veterinary service, consolidating with another clinic—or closing up shop and going
to work for veterinarians who are financially successful.
However, Paul says those owners may be the veterinarians that make up the bottom of ownership's bell-shaped curve. "The bottom
20 percent probably won't be here in five years, maybe not even two," he says. "Some veterinarians, you never see them at
meetings; you never see them at CE. If they sold their practices, the world wouldn't miss them at all." And he's not sure
anyone would hire them either.
Paul agrees with Felsted that it's the specific veterinarian who makes an impact: "A lot of it is the individual and their
talents and skills and their willingness to focus on the business aspect," he says. So this "crazy solution" may begin with
veterinarians becoming more willing to educate themselves about business.
Here's a shameless plug: If you're among the 41 percent of veterinarians who are overwhelmed by finances or the 25 percent
who say they know nothing about financial matters, the CVC in Washington, D.C., begins May 8—with practice management sessions
No. 3 Go where the work is
Veterinary school graduates should be willing to accept a position wherever it's available. There may not be a job in a suburban
hometown, but if there' work in Arkansas or Montana or some other area, that's where a newly minted veterinarian needs to
be prepared to go. A better distribution of veterinarians would provide better access to veterinary health and reduce the
pressure on excess-capacity flooded markets.
"I don't think anyone's ever going to a get a perfect job—the job you want with the pay you want where you want," Felsted
says. It comes down to priorities. If it's your top priority to stay in a certain geographical area, you may have to settle
for a job that isn't perfect—or even unemployment.
Paul says he's not sure all graduates are interested in making the sacrifice of moving. "They need to be willing to sacrifice.
Yes, they've sacrificed the last five years, 10 years even, but they're going to have to sacrifice more," he says. "The first
job—even the second job—they're going to take is a learning experience. It's not bloody likely that they're going to stay
in that practice for 40 years."
You never know, associates, it might be crazy to move to Arkansas. And practice owners, if you make it worth a new grad's
time in terms of salary and benefits, you could make it the best decision they ever made.