Planning Your Transition to Veterinary Practice Ownership

If you are considering becoming a practice owner, you’re probably feeling a lot of excitement—as well as a healthy dose of fear. Taking on practice ownership is a big responsibility, but it offers a wide range of rewards, too. As owner, you’ll be the one defining its direction, growth, and standard of care. You’ll also contribute to its culture and be instrumental in developing an inclusive, high-functioning work environment. And that’s not all. A practice is an investment, paying in dividends and then, when you’re ready to sell, it’ll be worth substantial value.

Yet, practice ownership has its dark side too. With investment comes risk. Your management responsibilities will increase significantly. Hiring and retaining qualified staff as well as developing a cohesive team and managing conflicts become a part of your day-to-day responsibilities, which makes it more difficult to balance your many other commitments such as medicine and family.

So Why Become a Practice Owner?

Simple: the benefits far outweigh the risks. This is evident in the many associates who have taken the plunge before you. And, just like you, they started out green, only to grow and become firmly established in their ownership roles. With all their experience, this also means they become an invaluable resource for future owners. Mentoring in management is just as important as mentoring in medicine. If you can seek out established owners and talk to them about their journey, you can be better prepared for your own.

Learning from Others: Alison’s Journey to Ownership

To better understand the transition from employee to owner, it can be helpful to walk through someone else’s story. Let’s look at Dr. Alison Smith and how she evolved in her journey.

After graduating from medical school, Alison knew she wanted to own a practice after she had repaid most of her student loan debt. Her goal in pursuing ownership was to have more control over her career, a secure job, and the opportunity to mold a practice’s culture. She also recognized that owners have a greater earning potential and the practice is an asset to sell in the future.

Alison expected a five- to seven-year period before ownership would be offered, so during her interviews, she would ask about the possibility of future ownership opportunities. After some time looking, she took a position at a practice that met her criteria: offering a positive environment, putting patients first, and having an excellent reputation in the community, as well as fair compensation and benefits.

Lucky for Alison, the current owner of the practice was a devoted mentor who helped show Alison the ropes during her early years of practice. Together, they set goals for the hospital, identified new challenges, set new responsibilities that Alison would assume in the next six to twelve months and identified CE programs she would attend so she could gain the necessary skills for practice ownership (see figure 1).

Becoming an Owner and Facing Her Fears

After seven years, the current owner and Alison agreed that they were ready to move forward with Alison’s buy-in, and she became a partner.

Yet, when Alison became owner, some serious concerns surfaced, including financial, management, and patient care worries. First, she had never had so much debt, and she worried about the practice’s profitability. If it dropped, it would compromise her ability to repay her purchase loan.

Despite her financial worries, Alison had to learn to trust in her practice and her (and her partner’s) ability to continue to grow the practice. To spearhead this growth, she took an active role in fiscal responsibilities by reviewing financial information, developing a budget, and continuing to seek opportunities to enhance patient care.

When it came to management concerns, Alison found that the main issue was time. With her focus on medical care, she wasn’t allocating much time to management and strategic planning. Alison realized that these pieces were vital to the practice, too, so she determined to set aside specific time with her partner to go over management responsibilities. She also continued to attend external CE programs and read management resources outside of veterinary medicine to stay on top of trends.

As an owner, patient care is a paramount concern and Alison wanted to ensure that the practice maintained a high level of patient care and client services. Relying on both her partner (who had already spent years building the practice into a community-touted, respected establishment) as well as her own skills and innovations, they continued to work toward improved patient and client experiences.

Positioning Yourself for Practice Ownership

So how to do you take Alison’s story and apply her experiences to your own? Every journey is different, but there are some steps that are universal. These are derived from both associates’ expectations and currents owners’ advice:

  • Increase Your Management Potential. Get started now on becoming more knowledgeable in practice management. Attend CE programs in management; read management journals and books; seek guidance from current owners; and do what you can to participate in managing decisions in your hospital.
  • Be a Role Model. Everyone is drawn toward a positive role model and progressive leader within their practice and community. Do what you can to elevate yourself and those around you.
  • Build and Nurture Relationships. Throughout your employment, continue to build and nurture positive relationships with your co-workers and your clients. These will become invaluable during your transition to ownership.

For more information and guidance, please visit our website at wellmp.com.