The fate of the rural veterinary practitioner
Like many of you, I fell in love with the idea of veterinary medicine through the novels of James Herriot. Since then I’ve wondered if the image of the folksy country doc visiting the barn, leather bag in hand, holds the profession back in some ways, but there’s no denying the powerful mystique of that veterinary archetype and its influence on the profession.
The sad thing is that the mixed-practice way of life might be dying, at least according to some. Several months ago I talked to John Davis, DVM, MBA, a practice owner in southern Colorado who also happens to coordinate the moderator program at the CVC veterinary conferences. Davis has been trying to sell his profitable mixed practice for years without success.
While I talked to Davis about his situation, it struck me that he was a kind of real-life James Herriot—whose legacy had no heir. The one veterinarian who was interested in taking over, he told me, was unable to get funding because she had nearly $400,000 in student debt.
In this issue of dvm360, as well as in sister magazines Vetted and Firstline and on dvm360.com, we look at practice ownership trends in the veterinary profession, especially focusing on corporate consolidation and its effects. But the fate of the rural practitioner seemed to have a place in the discussion as well, so we dug into Davis’ predicament in more depth. As often happens, we ended up with more great material than we could fit on the print pages, so Davis’ story (and the experts’ analysis) can be found here. I hope you’ll take the time to check it out, along with our other practice ownership coverage.
“For nearly thirty-seven years [my wife] and I have served this community, and I have represented our profession dutifully,” Davis wrote in a letter to a colleague that he showed me. “We are seeing third-generation clients. On my watch we have cleaned up brucellosis in the state, been through outbreaks of vesicular disease, West Nile encephalitis, rabies incidences, plague, one notable case of anthrax and others. ... If I am not replaced, who will be veterinary medicine’s eyes and ears ‘down here in the trenches’? Rural veterinary medicine is in a state of peril as is rural public health in general. It will be a crying shame if this great little rural practice closes its doors, the five jobs are lost to the community and the equipment sold on eBay.”