Are You Ready to Own a Vet Practice?

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Veterinary school teaches you how to practice medicine, but it doesn’t prepare you for all the responsibilities you will face as a business owner.  Here are some questions to ask yourself before deciding to open a veterinary clinic of your own:

1.  Do you have good business skills?

A practice-owning veterinarian must have excellent business skills (or the resources to hire people that are capable of taking care of all necessary business functions).

  The practice owner usually is responsible for making all business decisions for the venture.  While an MBA isn’t necessary, the owner should have a good understanding of financial planning and the ability to develop a quality business plan.

2.  Are you comfortable with taking on additional debt?

In most cases, an aspiring practice owner will not have sufficient savings to fund the purchase of a practice without taking on a loan.  It is important that you feel comfortable taking on debt as an investment in the business.  You should take into consideration the educational debt you already may have already incurred from vet school, as well as the feasibility of paying off two loans concurrently.  You also need to determine whether you have the necessary credit scores to qualify for additional business loans, and if you have access to the money required for a down payment.  (In some cases a seller may partially finance a new veterinarian that is buying into an established practice).

3.  Do you have solid veterinary skills?

It is important that the practice owner has excellent veterinary skills.  The owner is responsible for setting practice policies, making recommendations when asked to consult with other vets, and providing general medical oversight.  The owner should have solid technical skills and a strong background working with the species that will be treated at the clinic.

4.  Can you handle stress and a busy schedule?

Owning a veterinary practice is a 24/7 responsibility that comes with a high level of stress and a heavy workload, even when you are able to delegate some duties to a team of employees.  Can you afford to invest the significant amount of time that it will take to establish a business?  Can you be the first one to arrive in the morning and be the last one to leave at the end of the day?   Do you have family commitments to consider?  It is important to make a realistic assessment of your obligations and priorities before taking on such a major investment.

5.  Do you have leadership skills and management ability?

The practice owner carries the responsibility of leading the practice.  They must also be sure that they actively promote a team-based working environment that includes all veterinarians, vet techs, kennel attendants, receptionists, practice managers, and other staff members.

6. Have you considered the pros and cons of buying an established practice vs starting from scratch?

Be sure you have considered whether you would prefer to start your own practice from the ground up or whether you would be more comfortable purchasing an established business.

  Starting from scratch will give you complete control, but it can take a long time to establish a critical mass of clients.  Purchasing an existing practice gives you that client base as well as a fully equipped and established location, but it comes at a significant financial cost. 

7.  Are you ready for a long term commitment?

It can take a decade or more to turn a real profit as a practice owner, so you have to be confident that you are capable of looking at the big picture and focusing on long-term goals.  A practice doesn’t become a successful venture overnight.  Be sure that you really want to pursue ownership. It is a major commitment that should not be entered into lightly.