Was Veterinary Practice Ownership the Wrong Choice? | Simmons Inc.

By: Nikki Nitz, CPA, CMA – Simmons Northwest & Simmons Midwest

A common theme I am hearing from potential clients right now is, “Nikki, I just want to be a doctor and practice medicine. I don’t want to deal with all the management headaches anymore.” Can you relate? Are you reconsidering veterinary practice ownership?

Let’s look at the causes of these feelings and solutions to having you live the life you dreamt of when you first decided to take the path of business ownership.

Lack of Time

One of the first things that probably comes to your mind is that you just don’t have enough time. I’m sorry to tell you, but this is not a reason you are feeling the way you do. We all have the same number of hours, minutes, and seconds in a day. There is enough time! You just aren’t spending your time as you want to.

When you complain about time, it’s only because there are other things you would rather be spending your time doing. It’s not because there isn’t enough time. When we are spending our time on things we don’t enjoy they bring us stress instead of pleasure. We always have the time to spend on the things that are most important to us.

Lack of Education

You are a very intelligent person! You had to be in order to graduate from veterinary college. However, you may be very ignorant when it comes to successfully operating a business. Just because you are an excellent veterinarian does not automatically translate into you being an excellent veterinary hospital owner.

You likely received very little, if any, business education while attending college. If you have not personally taken it upon yourself to get educated in business you are running your hospital by the seat of your pants. This lack of education may be the root of your frustration with the ownership and management of your hospital. You don’t know what you are doing! You have never been taught! Therefore, you are not experiencing the results you thought you would as a practice owner.

If you have no desire to learn about business management, practice ownership may not be the right option for you. Even if you have a stellar practice manager and hospital administer, you are still the CEO of your business. You are the owner and with this comes ownership responsibilities beyond being a veterinarian. You need to know at least the high-level components of business management. The buck stops with you!

Lack of Delegation

D you feel like your hospital is consuming your life? When you entered into ownership, you had dreams and visions of this grand life you would have. You would be rolling in the dough and have plenty of time to enjoy life with the people you love most. Now that dream seems impossible. It is not! There are plenty of veterinarians who own hospitals, or even multiple hospitals, and are living the life you dream of. How are they doing it? They have learned to delegate. They have gained time in exchange for control.

You have a choice. You can keep doing everything yourself or hire people to help you. Some of these people will be employees and others will be hired from outside your hospital. If you are working full-time as a veterinarian seeing patients and also have full responsibility for the management of the practice, it is no wonder you don’t have any time for life outside of work!

If you want to continue to be in complete control of the management of your veterinary practice then you simply have to cut back on your patient hours. It really is this simple. I caution you to really consider if this is the best use of your time, education, and passions. If you don’t have a passion for learning how to successfully operate a business, then I suggest you hire someone else to do it for you. This will allow you can spend your time being a doctor.

You might argue that you can’t afford a practice manager. If you hire the right manager they will grow your business to levels you couldn’t even imagine doing yourself. This is assuming you are in an area with plenty of market potential. If you are in a market where your practice is already seeing the majority of the patients, this is a whole different issue and outside the scope of this article.

How many hours a week are you devoting to practice management? How much do you earn per hour when you are practicing medicine? Do the math. Then there are the hours you would prefer to be spending with your loved ones or traveling or on hobbies. These hours are harder to quantify. Some of them are priceless! How do you put a price on seeing your kid’s first home run or a date night with the person you fell in love with and married because they are the most important person in your life? You likely can’t afford NOT to hire a practice manager. Right now, you are trading your life for working hours and it is making you miserable!

If you decide your passion is really taking care of the patients, then you need to delegate the management duties to someone else who has a passion for these duties. I want to stress TO SOMEONE WHO HAS A PASSION FOR THESE DUTIES. So often hospital owners place an employee, often a technician, into the practice manager role. You feel you are giving this person a “promotion.” Well, if you don’t provide them with the proper management education and training you are not promoting them at all! You are setting them up for failure! Just as you have not received business education, neither have they. So how do you expect them to be successful at handling employee conflicts, inventory control, scheduling, payroll, financial management, and all of the other management responsibilities without the proper training? Just because they have been an amazing technician for many years does not mean they will be an amazing hospital manager. They may share your passion for medicine over management.


Assess your schedule

Log every hour of your day for a couple of your average weeks. It will be eye-opening! You will find you are wasting a lot of time on things that are not of value: television, social media, online videos, all the negativity delivered by the news media, are just a few things that come to mind. What duties and responsibilities are you currently doing that would be better to delegate? Should you hire the neighborhood kid trying to earn a few dollars by mowing lawns so you free up those same hours to attend your kid’s soccer games? Should you hire a house cleaner so you can spend more time with your aging mother? The studies repeatedly show that people nearing death wish they had spent more time with people they love, not on their careers. Make informed choices on how you spend your time, both professionally and personally.

Get educated

Take some business management courses. It has never been easier to get educated! You can do this from your recliner at home with online education. There are also plenty of practice management courses offered at veterinary conferences. Sit in on some of these instead of limiting yourself to scientific courses. Again, if you are going to be the owner, you are the CEO and need at least high-level business education to be successful. If you don’t have any interest in business management, delegate! Make sure whoever you hire for the management of your business is passionate about management and proper management education to be successful.

Reconsider Ownership

At the end of the day, you have to decide if owning an animal hospital is really what you have always wanted. There is no denying the benefits that come with ownership, but the added rewards come with additional stress and responsibility. Practice owners don’t get to “just practice medicine.” Even the best delegators will still have business decisions to make and will need to have some amount of their schedule dedicated to maintaining their business. If ownership isn’t everything you wanted it to be, it may be time to consider letting go of ownership and returning to a career where you can just focus on improving the lives of animals. Our team is always willing to help you assess your options and guide you towards a decision that will lead to a happier life. Contact your local advisor today.

I’ve been fortunate enough to know and assist hundreds of veterinarians. They understand what their practice needs. The challenge is the lack of resources and experience to create the veterinary practice of their dreams. Practice ownership is rewarding and can lead to financial security. Don’t tackle it on your own. Instead, tap into knowledgeable resources and people you trust who can help you reach your dream of medicine and practice ownership.