Anndrea Kapke, DVM, couldn’t be faulted for wondering why she had bothered opening the suburban Indianapolis veterinary clinic. The first day, she and her business partner turned on a water faucet and nothing happened; the water main had burst. The second day, the furnace conked out. Then, within weeks, as they struggled to build a clientele, she realized she was pregnant with her first child, meaning the two veterinarians would have to rethink their plan of holding down expenses by holding off on hiring staff members.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” she says now.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” her husband and business partner, Eric Kapke, DVM, agrees drily.
The Kapkes and their marriage successfully survived the trauma of launching Greenwood Animal Clinic, which will turn 13 years old this fall.
“There were times, at least in the beginning, when it might have been less stressful if one of us had been doing something different to bring in another income,” admits Eric, 39. “But really, we have always complemented each other well.”
Adds Anndrea, 39: “We really understand each other. If one of us comes home and says we had this client or that case today, the other one knows exactly what we mean.”
The Kapkes met when Anndrea, then 17, was hired by the veterinary clinic where Eric had been working as a kennel helper. “Later, the vet told me that he hired me because he thought Eric needed a girlfriend,” Anndrea says, laughing.
The young couple went on their first date a few weeks later and married while attending Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. After graduation—Anndrea in 1994 and Eric in 1995—they ended up in suburban Chicago, working as associates at different clinics. They soon found that the hectic pace of trying to manage two veterinary careers was not conducive to married life, at least not the kind they wanted.
“There were stretches where we’d both get done at 7 or 8, see each other for an hour, and then we’d have to go to bed so we could get up and go back to work,” Eric says. “Her days off were different from mine. On weekends one of us would usually have emergency duty.”
At first they thought of working at the same clinic, but over time they agreed to go into business together. Knowing they wanted to start a family soon, preferably near their extended families, they chose Greenwood, Ind., where Anndrea had grown up. While working in the Chicago suburbs, they developed plans for a clinic, scouted properties and arranged financing. Finally, in the late summer of 1997, they quit their jobs and made the move.
A Tough Reality
Things didn’t go exactly as planned.
Those first weeks brought few clients; the clinic they’d purchased had been closed for 18 months and they lacked formal business knowhow.
“There’s so much science to learn and so little time. I think I took one business class in college,” Anndrea says. “That’s something I would recommend for [students], because so many of us do end up going in business for ourselves.”
Anndrea’s pregnancy, while welcome, threw a wrench into the situation. Originally, the Kapkes hired no one; with clients, Eric would assist Anndrea and vice versa. But because of a somewhat difficult pregnancy and Ann-drea’s need for time with the baby, they realized they needed to hire someone to cover part of her workload, easing the personal stress but adding to the overhead.
Their working relationship developing quickly, the Kapkes decided to refer after-hours emergencies, recognizing that it was hard to dissociate from the office if clients were banging on the door of their upstairs apartment in the middle of the night. “We love what we do, but you have to have time away, especially since we were both always going to be there,” Anndrea says.
Dividing the workload occurred naturally. Eric is more outgoing, so he took on more of the client relations; Anndrea is more detail-oriented, so business planning went to her. He likes surgery; she prefers medicine. He developed more expertise in exotics, so she deferred those clients to him. She is calmer and quieter, so skittish animals are usually referred to her.
As one child, then another, came along, the Kapkes arranged their schedules so that one is the primary vet on a given day and the other is the primary parent. The primary vet, Anndrea explains, manages the clinic that day. The primary parent picks up the kids from school, shuttles them to activities, and gets dinner and homework under way.
“That way, if your kid needs to go to dance class at 6:30 and someone’s just brought in a bloody dog that got hit by a car, whoever is the primary vet takes care of the dog and the primary parent goes off to dance class,” Anndrea says. “The thing about being a vet, you can’t always expect a vet to be where they say they’re going to be; we work some long hours. But both of us understand that.”
That balance is evident in the clinic, clients and peers say.
“I learned a lot about how to create a balance in life, and not to completely stress out about school, by watching them,” says Paul Lory, DVM, who worked for the Kapkes for several years while attending veterinary school at Purdue and is now in practice near the Kapkes. “The clinic always had a good family atmosphere, like you were among friends.”
And, in fact, there may be room for another Kapke veterinarian in the future. Their son, Nathan, 11, wants to be a racecar driver or an engineer. But their daughter, Willow, 9, “has wanted to be a vet since she could talk,” Anndrea says. “She has her own little scrubs, and she comes to work whenever she can; she loves to talk to clients. So, I don’t know, but, yes, I would love it, love it. That would be wonderful.”
This article first appeared in the April 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News