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Interest in veterinary practice ownership wanes

Cost and a desire for a positive work-life balance factor into decision to own—or, increasingly, not to.
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Dec 01, 2012


Rebecca Moland
Fourth-year University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine student Rebecca Moland wants to be a small animal practitioner—maybe care for the occasional goat or alpaca. Practice ownership isn't part of her 10-year plan. It may never be.


Table 1: Practice ownership aspirations
When DVM Newsmagazine asked non-owning veterinarians, "Is practice ownership one of your aspirations?" in its 2012 State of the Profession survey, 70 percent of respondents gave a decided "No." Only 30 percent answered in the affirmative (see Table 1).


Dr. Ronald Cott
Reasons to opt out of ownership are certainly as varied as the individual veterinarians holding them. But experts agree that a perfect storm of changing demographics, generational differences, new professional opportunities and financial concerns has converged, making waning interest in practice ownership the new normal. "You put the gender shift, advanced degrees and generational thinking together—boy, things have changed," says Ronald Cott, DVM, associate dean for student and alumni affairs at Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine.

The New Ideals

As the grandfathers of veterinary medicine look to pass the torch, many are finding that the face and ideals of veterinary youth have changed. "We went from 100 percent male in the profession to graduating 80 percent women in every class," Cott says. He says the male-dominated older generation is often finding it difficult to convince younger, mostly female veterinarians of the benefits of practice ownership. "I hear women say they're not interested in ownership," Cott says.


Dr. Shawn Finch
Shawn Finch, DVM, an associate with Gentle Doctor Animal Hospitals in Omaha, Neb., is just one such associate who has no interest in ownership. "I do believe young women tend to think differently than older men about practice ownership," Finch says. In fact, she thinks the role veterinarians used to play in society may not appeal to the younger generation. "Veterinarians of the James Herriot era loved being the go-to guy 24-7, the whole 'jumping into the car to save the day' lifestyle," she says. "The profession has changed since then—slowly, over decades—and today we have part-time jobs, job sharing, specialists and emergency hospitals for overnight care. Veterinarians still have a good quality of life, not so much because of the excitement of years past, but because we balance our life and work and family time and are nicer to ourselves—we're still awesome, but maybe emotionally healthier."

Moland says the challenge of maintaining a work-life balance is definitely a deterrent to owning a practice, but she doesn't think that necessarily relates to her gender. (In fact, DVM's survey shows that male associates are only slightly more interested in practice ownership than women.) "Having children is also not really within my goals for the next 10 years," Moland says. "And if I do have a family someday, I'm hoping it comes with a stay-at-home father."

Ownership is simply not a priority in her career, she says. In fact, she worries it could have a negative impact. "I would consider becoming part owner of a practice in the future if a good opportunity arose and I had the financial ability to do so, but I don't think I'll seek it out," she says. "While it has the potential to increase my salary, it also has the potential to increase my risk for burnout with the added stresses of managing the entire business."