How to Create a Successful Veterinary Practice
Five tips of expert advice for building and running a veterinary services business
Foundations of Veterinary Business: Now Enrolling!
Presented by UC Davis Graduate School of Management and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine experts, this online program is an excellent investment for those considering practice ownership, as well as those who want to take their business understanding to the next level.
Whether you are a veterinarian who owns your own practice, are thinking about starting your own animal care clinic or wellness center, or are a veterinary technician, it is essential that you understand business fundamentals if you want to have a successful veterinary practice.
Why, you might ask? In short, it’s so everyone feels taken care of: from your clients and patients to your employees and even yourself.
It is true that clinical skills are vital to a veterinary clinic, but they are just one piece of this complex puzzle. There are a number of other skills—such as accounting, strategic planning, marketing, etc.—that you need to know if you are to truly build a successful veterinary practice.
It may seem intimidating to think about trying to acquire this completely different skill set, especially if you are already taxed for time or are still paying off student loans. However, you don’t need to get an MBA to obtain the business skills needed to build a successful veterinary business. Many veterinarians have acquired this business know-how in just a few months without taking on a big expense, all while they continue to work in a clinical setting.
The need for more veterinary practices has possibly never been higher. Nationwide there is a veterinary labor shortage. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of veterinarians is projected to grow 17 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Plus, approximately 4,400 veterinary jobs are expected to open up every year for the next 10 years. On top of this, the need for services has skyrocketed for multiple reasons including clients' adequate disposable income, the increased amount of time spent with pets, and the growing number of pet owners, including the more than 23 million households that adopted pandemic pets between 2020 and 2022.
Those who can acquire the necessary business skills to effectively run a veterinary practice will be better poised to have a successful career and fill the needs of some 75 million pets who could otherwise be without care.
5 pieces of expert advice for running a successful veterinary practice
We talked with expert James “Jim” Clark, DVM, MBA, who owned an emergency veterinary practice for many years and now teaches a business certificate class at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine that is specifically focused on teaching business fundamentals to veterinarian professionals. He’s developed the following tips based on his own experience “working in the trenches” as well as from visiting hundreds of veterinary clinics throughout the U.S. and teaching this business certificate to working veterinary professionals.
1. Create and Share a Clear Vision
Rarely is money a person’s sole motivation to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Instead, people enter the field because they have a passion for the work and a desire to care for animals. This philosophy should hold true if you are thinking about pursuing ownership of a practice.
What you need to start and have a successful veterinary practice is to develop a clear vision for your business. You need to have clear answers to the following questions:
- What does quality medical care look like at your practice?
- How do you want to serve your clients?
- What kind of office culture do you want to create for the members of your team?
Having a clear vision in these areas is essential. It will allow you to differentiate your practice from others and do so in a way that is authentic to you and, therefore, will resonate with your clients. This vision will also help motivate you in the day-to-day work of running a clinic as well as drive your business strategy.
Being able to share and communicate your vision effectively is also very important. If you can clearly share your vision with your team and clients it can create a business culture where your staff will be proud of where they work. It can also help them make the right decisions without your oversight because they will understand and embrace your vision for the business.
2. Build Trusting Relationships
Building trusting relationships is a tip that might seem obvious but is not something that all veterinarians do well. To build effective relationships that ultimately result in satisfied customers, veterinarians need to have highly developed, professional communications skills.
Many veterinarians have received little to no training in professional communication, especially since graduating from veterinary school. Often unknowingly, veterinarians tend to develop patterns of communication that are not optimal. Pursuing advanced communication training specific to veterinary practice can significantly improve skills, resulting in stronger trusting relationships with clients. This, in turn, leads to both improved medical care and practice financial success. Given significant increases in veterinary costs, a key skill is how to successfully navigate financial discussions with clients, conveying value while also helping them feel in control of decisions.
Trusting relationships are really the glue of success for a veterinary practice and are what today’s veterinarian clients are looking for with their veterinarian. They don’t want generic veterinarian care; they want personalized care. They want to know their veterinarian has their best interest, as well as that of their furry family member, at heart.
3. Teach Trust and Support Your Team
Veterinarian practices across the U.S. are experiencing significant labor shortages. This includes not only the veterinarians but also all the other members of the veterinary team who are essential to delivering a high quality of care. This trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The need to focus on recruiting and retaining good employees for your veterinary practices is all the more important.
One thing that practice owners and leaders can do to help with this is to create robust training programs for their staff and then trust the team members to perform those tasks. This will not only make your business more efficient, but it will empower your staff and give them a sense of pride in their work, as well as free up your time so you can focus on the tasks that only you, as the business owner, can do.
The second thing the owner of a practice can do for their staff is to make sure they feel supported. Those who work in a veterinary practice can often become subject to compassion fatigue, especially if there is a large client load. It is important for veterinary owners to create systems to support their staff so all team members can work together to provide the level of care that clients will appreciate and that will ultimately make your practice successful.
4. Work in Your Business and on Your Business
Being the owner or leader of a business can be overwhelming at times. There are a lot of demands on your time and attention. Very often, business owners get so consumed in the day-to-day tasks and putting out those proverbial fires, that they don’t take the time to step back and see the big picture. It is essential to take a pause from the day-to-day every once in a while so you can make observations about your business overall, e.g., identify opportunities for improvement, assess how business is progressing toward your long-term goals, etc. It’s not easy to do, but it can transform a practice.
5. Create Systems and Pay Attention to Details
Creating systems isn’t the fun and fascinating part of being a leader, but it’s incredibly important. By creating systems, you are identifying those repetitive tasks and listening to the needs of your team, to ultimately find ways to deliver care reliably, consistently, and efficiently.
Having systems that allow you to pay attention to details and present a high level of organization to your clients can help affirm a positive perception of your business in their minds. Very often veterinary clinics that are successful are not doing things that are radically different from other clinics, but rather they are paying more attention to the details.
The details and having systems are important because clients of veterinary services often don’t have the medical knowledge base to assess the quality of care being provided. Instead, they rely on the things they can observe and understand to assess the quality of a veterinary practice such as organization, cleanliness, and customer service, for example, if staff know their name and take notice when an animal patient is anxious. Paying attention to those details are very important for the success of a veterinary practice.
Creating systems also allows you to take care of your own well-being as an owner. Once you create the system and train and trust members of your team, you will no longer be a slave to your practice. You can enjoy your own quality of life while also running a practice that fulfills your passions and is successful.
Those veterinary professionals who can apply these five tips and operate their veterinary practice as an effective business will be able to provide higher quality medical care, recruit and retain higher caliber team members, invest in cutting-edge medical equipment to continually improve care, and create a positive environment for their team, clients and patients. These steps will result in both clients and team members who are more committed to the practice and more likely to sing its praises, including very publicly on social media and other platforms. This, in turn, feeds the cycle of success by improving client and staff retention and generating more new clients and future team members.
The Foundations of Veterinary Business: Business Fundamentals Certificate program combines the expertise of UC Davis’ No. 1 ranked School of Veterinary Medicine and the UC Davis Graduate School of Management—No. 2 globally for faculty quality—to create a cost-effective and time-efficient hybrid program (self-paced and interactive workshops) for busy working professionals to give them foundational business knowledge necessary to run a veterinary practice. Learn more about the Foundations of Veterinary Business, which 100 percent of past participants would recommend, or enroll for the 2022 summer session.