I spoke with Michael Gerber, management guru and best-selling author of The E-Myth Revisited and the E-Myth book collection, and Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, who co-wrote The E-Myth Veterinarian with Gerber. We talked about big trends in our profession such as corporate medicine and school debt.
What is your perception of corporate medicine versus private practice?
PW: In spite of all the criticism, corporate medicine provides opportunities to all kinds of players in veterinary medicine and beyond. Corporate practices provide managers, supervisors, and entrepreneurs who run the practice like a business, so that veterinarians who only want to practice medicine can do just that.
The entrepreneurs in charge of the corporation are constantly looking for ways to improve the business as a whole and to develop individual practices within the corporation. So in many ways, a corporate practice is what Michael calls an enterprise. Corporations have the technicians* doing the veterinary work, while a manager makes sure things are done the right way.
If you want be a doctor, corporate practice is the perfect way to go. Corporations allow practitioners to be technicians*. Most corporate practices out there don’t dictate how doctors should work. They may provide guidelines, but the doctor sets the standards of care.
So I’m suggesting that if you enjoy strictly being a doctor and don’t want to bother with management, human resources, accounting, and more, you should work for a corporation.
MG: Corporations also provide an exit strategy for some practice owners because they are looking to buy high-equity practices. As they acquire other high-equity practices, corporations provide benefits for their shareholders.
What are your thoughts on the school debt issue?
PW: Veterinary schools traditionally have produced technicians* and clinicians. What I believe they should do is create well-rounded veterinary practitioners who have an understanding of the veterinary business model and are looking to improve it. Future colleagues should strive to improve the lives of the clients, the patients, and the staff, and shouldn’t replicate the issues that the veterinary profession has had for years.
Statistics show that veterinary students go to vet school because they want to become veterinarians and they don’t care about the cost. I don’t know if Michael has worked with any profession that is so devoted and dedicated to sometimes working at the expense of economic security. There are many veterinarians who are not so worried about the money.
How would I fix the school debt issue? Who do we need to address in the selection process of veterinary students?
We need to look into the education process of veterinary students. We need to look at the business model for the profession itself. And we all need to be changing a few things at the same time. The education model needs to be improved. The business model needs to be changed.
MG: They need to change so they are more client-driven and more relationship-based and not just for people who do great technical work at the expense of that relationship.
PW: Some of that starts with the selection process. Some veterinarians are just not great with client relationships. Their personality and people skills are such that they really should have a right-hand person whose sole job is to be the client liaison.
Recruit examination room nurses as those liaisons. Train them to type (or hand write) notes in the medical record. Have them send emails on behalf of the doctors. If we all agree that doctors have limited time and should focus on patient care, then leverage their time by using the skills of well-trained nurses. Use somebody else to help extend that relationship and communicate with the client and build relationship.
In addition to excellent patient skills, some nurses have amazing communication and bonding skills with clients. Use them to your benefit. It’s a synergistic relationship that leads to a win-win situation for everybody involved.
What do you think about finding new clients versus retaining existing clients?
MG: Veterinarians, like other small business owners and healthcare professionals, focus too much on acquiring new clients. A much wiser and much cheaper approach is to learn to retain existing clients. Vets and their teams need to learn how to keep clients for decades, and how to take care of their pets from womb to tomb. When this happens, overhead costs decrease while efficiency and effectiveness increase.
Remember, you don’t need to have every pet owner in your community as a client. You only need to have the best clients who appreciate the way you want to deliver your craft and continue to innovate around them.
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. Visit his websites at DrPhilZeltzman.com and VeterinariansInParadise.com.
AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, Pa., contributed to this article.
*”Don’t be a technician” is a classic Michael Gerberism. The word is confusing in our profession, but it has nothing to do with veterinary technicians. The technician’s focus is on the present, and on the hands-on work of the business. The entrepreneur’s work is strategic in nature and involves focusing on the future and developing a vision for the business.