Monday, December 17, 2012

"Interest In Practice Ownership Wanes"

This is the title for the DVM 360 December 2012 article I just read.

As a 2005 graduate of VA-MD Regional College of Vet Medicine and a female I read the article with curiosity and dismay.

How can my fairy-tale idea of the perpetuation of James Herriott continue if the new generation of veterinarians don't want to jump on the saddle and take off into the next era of veterinary medicine? Will we become a profession of veterinary practices owned by big corporations and manned by local clock-in, clock-out women?

The point of the article seems to be that the "cost and a desire for a positive work-life balance factors into a decision to not own a practice."

I consider myself to be a fairly recent graduate. I know first hand how difficult it is to get into vet school. How many years we spend obsessing about how to get in, and how little concern we place on if we are able to afford it. It is all rose colored glasses and not listening to any piece of advice that might even sound like a dissuasion to doing what we feel 'we are meant to do.'

Once you finally get into vet school it is four long hard years of trying to stay in. We sacrifice family, personal lives, any degree of free time and live as cheaply as possible. We borrow to get through those four years of life, vet school, and basic necessities. Many of us already have an IOU from our four year college by the time we arrive at vet school. After all of those years of sacrifice we want AND need a regular life. We want to start dating, start a family, live in a house, go to the movies and eat out. Then the reality of how much we owe hits us. How the heck do we pay back our loans, buy a house, and try to leave a few moments for a personal life? It usually leaves us with feeling like the idea of practice ownership is not only out, it is yet another IOU to another institution when the previous banks have been chomping at our wallets relentlessly and indefinitely.

I graduated in a class of 90 students. Ten of my classmates were males. They have become a dying breed. DVM 360 calls it the "gender shift." I call it the best example of how things in veterinary medicine  are changing. A combination of women stepping into the shoes formerly worn by a "men-only" field and a driven professional workforce passionate about caring for those with no voice. I think it is very clear why there is a significant gender shift, but how do I explain why my fellow women veterinarians do not want to take the helm? They wanted to go to vet school, worked hard to get in, but then just want to work for someone else? Forever? Why?

The article also reiterates the financial hardships new grads face. The average student debt load of a new vet school grad is almost $200,000. The average starting salary is about $60,000. Add to that the cost of a new home, and the thought of needing time off to start a family, and the idea of buying or building a practice which starts at about 1 million, and it is almost insurmountable. I get it, I really do. I don't know what the answer is, but I am saddened to think it is just accepting that it is impossible to own your own practice and accepting to work for someone else for the rest of your career. Worse yet, most upcoming vet school graduates are resigning to this without even having their degree in hand.

I understand the difficulty in trying to find balance in life. We are all faced with this no matter which profession we choose. I also believe that veterinary medicine most closely follows in the footsteps of human medicine by about a decade. Human medicine has gone the way of corporate conglomerates that manage doctors who work for them. How many of us now go to large hospitals to see our doctor who works in a large building with a corporate logo on it? I remember the days of seeing our doctor in his house. He was a small one doctor practice with his own name hand lettered on the mailbox. It was also the same in our small town veterinary practice.

This the kind of veterinary practice I bought and still own. It is also the kind of veterinary practice I grew up in, aspired to own, and believe still best serves pets. If you need me I am there. If you are one of my clients you know that you can reach me at almost any time of day or night. Many of my class mates, colleagues, and competitors think I am crazy to be so available, but I have never had one client abuse this, and I know it has saved many a patient and bonded every client. Everything that goes on under under my roof is my responsibility. But what will happen to my practice when it is time for me to retire? Jarrettsville Vet might be sold to Banfield, or one of the other corporate practices. Perhaps two decades down the road there won't be anyone else to sell it to?

And perhaps the days of James Herriott will be like the story of old Doc Mag who used to make house calls?

I do not believe that there is a veterinarian out among us who is adverse or uncomfortable with hard word, dedication, and decision making. These are exactly the same skill sets that owning your own practice requires. Your practice is yours to shape, mold, and reflect your viewpoints. I knew immediately out of vet school that I would have a much harder road IF I worked for someone. I was expected to follow the same beliefs and practices as the former owner, and I couldn't euthanize every pet that an owner asked me to. I had a line in the sand that was about a continent away from his. We were from different generations and different perspectives. I like to be in control of my destiny more than I fear failure, long days, client rants, staff drama, and I also enjoy owning versus renting. 

My clinic employs seven other veterinarians. 5 women and 2 men. One of my associates used to own two clinics. He is now semi-retired and practicing what he wants when he wants. It would be nice to be able to sell my clinic to one of my associates, but I don't think it is in their future plans. I expect that at some point I will be looking to hire an associate with the plan of buying me out, I also expect that they will arrive at my doorstep in a suit and tie. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Y'all,

    Huge hospital owned practices and one hospital owning many smaller ones seems to be where human health care is headed...I guess vets are following suit. Besides it costs loads of money to run a vet or medical practice not to mention the overhead of operating a practice. In the case of human medical care, the doctors are employed by hospitals, even those who practice in their own offices.

    BrownDog's Human