Trust Us, Young Vets Have Lots To Offer

Young vets are the key to great next generation animal care.

I get more than my share of mail from Veterinary Practice News readers who disparage my ability to serve as a competent observer of practice life, often on the basis of my “associate” status.

It’s been suggested that because I serve at the pleasure of my bosses in a mere associate’s capacity, my approach to certain subjects offers no more than an underling’s understanding of the intricacies and stressors inherent to practice ownership.

It’s also been claimed on more than one occasion that this column rightfully belongs to a veterinarian with a higher perch and a practiced point of view, not to someone whose associate-ship likely means her business acumen is confined to her academic experience.

As if that wasn’t enough of a dig, other comments—even on—have suggested that any given practice owner might love nothing better than to know I worked for the competition. Presumably that’s because I’m an uppity associate who challenges their status quo. After all, even my most demanding employers never complained about my production numbers or client-building skills––that is until I worked for the competition.

And while I’ll never begrudge anyone their right to play the loudmouth with other people’s feelings—we’re all guilty of that on occasion—I’d just like to suggest that one doesn’t have to be a practice owner to know a thing or two about how the veterinary world works or how life in practice feels. And its corollary: Nor is it smart to assume that practice ownership necessarily confers any special business benefits.

Hierarchical Viewpoints

The most troubling part of the you’re-not-a-practice-owner-so-shut-up critique is not that I might be more qualified than my detractors have a right to assume. That irks, sure, but what’s really disturbing is the underlying implication that associates are somehow not as well-qualified to render opinions on weighty veterinary subjects. As if we’re not full-fledged veterinarians until we’ve invested in a practice and proven our mettle.

It’s this annoyingly pervasive, hierarchical point of view that troubles me. More so because it doesn’t bode well for the future of veterinary collegiality should it persist. Not with all the fresh young minds coming down the pike in droves. Not when so many of these are debt-laden individuals who need not feel intimidated or marginalized by personal financial decisions that should have no bearing on their role as stewards of animal health.

Indeed, a rapidly growing number of associate veterinarians out there more than qualify for full status as veterinary opinion leaders, regardless of what some would prefer to see on these pages. They lead our VMAs, they’re setting up not-for-profits, they’re volunteering their time or otherwise playing the role of full-fledged veterinarian. And if I’ve done the math right, their slice of the veterinary workforce pie is bigger than it’s ever been.

Different Lifestyles

Practice ownership isn’t for everyone. Every year, more veterinary graduates neglect to check off a box that says they’d love to sign up for more debt. And while most may seem to reject practice ownership on economic grounds, it’s largely the lifestyle issue that drives most of my associate colleagues’ choices: “I’d rather be camping on the weekends with my family and invest my kids’ college and retirement dollars elsewhere.”

Then there’s the question of fundamental economic pressures the modern veterinary hospital requires: While dentists can still do very well in a singleton practice, economies of scale speak otherwise in the context of our modern, full-service veterinary profession. No, even if our cultural mindset wasn’t hastening the demise of the obligatory vet-as-practice-owner model, it no longer makes sense to continue to practice at a one- or two-man level.

Yes, our profession is in dire need of associates. And thank God we’re here, for where would all those practice owners be without us? But with this change in the veterinary associate demographic comes an emerging power to change how veterinary medicine looks, acts and works.

Make no mistake, we’re entering an era of rising associate influence.

Partner and Comrade

Yep, I predict we’re perfectly poised to more than make up for the fact that associates have historically assumed what were once considered subordinate roles in veterinary medicine. And while the term “associate” may still denote an employed status, it no longer connotes a younger, less qualified or not-so-ambitious veterinarian who may or may not be looking to buy someone out or hang up their shingle down the road in a couple of years. Observe:

as-so-ci-ate  n.

  1. A person united with another or others in an act, enterprise or business; a partner
    or colleague.
  2. A companion; a comrade.
  3. One that habitually accompanies or is associated with another; an attendant circumstance.
  4. A member of an institution or society who is granted only partial status or

Here’s where I suggest we all focus on definition numbers one, two and three and let four go by the wayside.

Even if you do feel that associates are inherently less knowledgeable about the veterinary industry, I’ll offer a suggestion: Don’t trot out that point of view in front of your “respected associate.” While you may be right in regard to your personal skills, fanning the flames of an “us and them” mentality isn’t exactly the sharpest professional decision you could make. But then, I’ll bet all practice owners who currently harbor a strong sense of superiority related to their business decisions already know better. <HOME>

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, is a small-animal practitioner in Miami and a passionate blogger at She earned her veterinary degree in 1995 and her business degree from Wharton in 1997.

This article first appeared in the July 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Click here to become a subscriber.

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