Owning a practice? You?

Some would argue practice ownership is only for the most ambitious or for those who love business

Some would argue practice ownership is only for the most ambitious—for those who love business. Like that classmate who always reads the Wall Street Journal or the one who knows she wants to be a specialist… of some sort… and all that entails. I mean, you know nothing about business. And the stress isn’t worth it. The burden of your student loan probably makes practice ownership impossible, anyway.

The excuses are endless. But so too are the reasons to own, even more so in this environment of corporate competition, continued consolidation, and rapid change. After all, where there is change—even chaos—there’s also opportunity.

What’s more, practice ownership promises all the things you’ve always wanted from your profession. It buys you stability and flexibility, the two things that can make having a family more doable. It also means more money. And, paradoxically, those who have the least of it are those who stand to gain the most from practice ownership.

I’m not saying it’s easy. To be sure, it involves risk. But it’s those who never contemplated ownership, those most beset and bedeviled by family-related inflexibility and financial burdens, who also have the most to gain and the least to lose. In other words, in the rewards-to-risk ratio you’re so familiar with in clinical practice, you probably score way higher than the average Joe veterinarian.

What’s more, as the big corporations and consolidators are just now starting to grasp, you also have the most power. Practices that keep veterinarians longest… win. Veterinary hospitals that can build in economic stability by maintaining long-term relationships with individual veterinarians are ultimately worth the most. You, my friend, control your destiny.

But where does a young(ish), starving veterinarian like you even start? Here’s where:

1) Write a five- and 10-year plan

Remember the annoying assignment from that half-semester veterinary laws and business class? It’s time for a redo. Make a bullet-point plan of what you’d like to see yourself doing. Include all those nonprofessional things, too, like owning a house, putting your kids through college, taking a vacation in the summer, and enjoying a well-deserved holiday break. Go ahead and include a horse or a summer lakeside rental in your 10-year plan. The pie is up there. Your job is to keep reaching for it.

2) Be collegial, be local

Join your local VMA and attend local CE events. Exist fully as a veterinarian in your community, which also means participating in things such as the local softball team, bowling league, cycling club, book club, etc. Being active in your community puts you in the mindset that what you do matters to more people than just you and your family.

3) Take in a few lectures on practice ownership

National conferences, such as VMX and WVC, are great at offering intro-style practice ownership lectures designed to help get you into the right frame of mind for considering ownership. Don’t bother with the lectures aimed at the nitty-gritty—you don’t want to risk getting bogged down in the minutia.

4) Play the credit score game

Whatever your future plans, your credit score matters—more than you think. It’s this magic number that can inexplicably (and often unjustifiably) make the difference between owning things and barely scraping by when it comes to banks refusing to lend you money. So pay attention.

And now you have no excuse. It’s never been easier to manage your credit. New regulations make it illegal for credit agencies to ding your credit when you casually check in on it. That makes monthly or even weekly check-ins a doable endeavor. I use the CreditKarma app, but my bank also offers an updated credit score whenever I check my balance.

However, it’s not just about numbly monitoring a humbling number. Most credit resources offer concrete solutions to improve your credit. And whatever you do, don’t despair; your credit score is not a measure of you as a person, so don’t get all wrapped up in negative thinking. Remember: It’s a game—one you can only win if you learn how to play.

5) Identify allies

You don’t have to do it alone! Find like-minded colleagues who also have an interest in getting ahead, but don’t have the ambition or financial wherewithal to go it alone. Two or three of you together can do things the big guys often can’t.

Start with weekly dinners. Talk about practices coming up for sale. Find out what it would cost to hire a consultant. Or skip this step and look into the cost to build or buy a practice in your area and start working toward that goal. Divide the work of looking into lending resources and exploring potential purchase opportunities. If nothing else, you’ve enjoyed some great meals and deepened some friendships.

Note: Don’t restrict yourself to veterinarian colleagues. Office managers and technicians are excellent potential allies, too. My office manager is also my business partner, and though she owns only a small percentage, her partnership has made my life as a practice owner not just doable, but bearable.

6) Consider veterinary management companies

Don’t want to do it by yourself? Or maybe you have a buddy and some purchase possibilities, but don’t want to manage anything? No worries. You still have options. Contact some of the veterinary management companies who do all the heavy lifting (but take a hefty stake in return).

Most of these organizations take at least 51 percent, but the ones I know of are reputable and fair. It’s a fantastic option for veterinarians who want to be owners, but don’t want to be businesspeople—at all.

7) Get creative

The options are endless, and chance favors a prepared mind. Read all you can on various alternative practice ownership scenarios.

8) Don’t be bedeviled by the details

There’s enough time for those in the future, and you may never even need them. After all, you never wanted to be a practice owner in the first place. Your job entails looking for ways to become a practice owner without ever having to work like one.

9) Stay positive

Your positive attitude is your one true ally. Focus on it.

10) Keep an open mind

Whatever you ultimately decide, knowing you kept an open mind throughout your veterinary career means you can rest easy in the knowledge you lived your professional life to the fullest without ever owning a practice.

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at drpattykhuly.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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