Path to AAEP presidency a winding one

Mitchell stresses importance of mentorship, financial planning
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Dr. Mitchell
Dr. John S. Mitchell (Photos courtesy of the AAEP)

Dr. John S. Mitchell has one piece of advice for recent graduates: Interview with the idea that you are trying to get the job, but also make sure your expectations, values, and ethics line up with the practice's.

"For a really high percentage of veterinarians, their first practice shapes their career," Dr. Mitchell said. "It should be less a thing of selling yourself, but evaluating the practice opportunity."

The American Association of Equine Practitioners' new president speaks from much experience—both good and bad—after 39 years in equine practice. In that time, he's gone from starting at a practice with no business structure, no mentoring, and "questionable ethics" to becoming a Standardbred racetrack practitioner at Pompano Park, Fla.

Along the way, Dr. Mitchell also has moved up the ranks in the AAEP since joining in 1972. Dr. Mitchell has served on the Educational Programs, Racing, Foundation Advisory, and former Practice Management committees. He held the office of AAEP treasurer from 2002-2005, and has been instrumental in the development of programs for the annual AAEP Practice Management Seminar and co-chaired the meeting in 2002.

In a speech he gave at the AAEP President's Luncheon Nov. 21, 2011, he said, "I plan to serve my year as a facilitator of the outstanding volunteers and superb staff that make AAEP so successful. The lessons I have learned about the value of mentorship and detailed planning parallel the values of the AAEP."

Learning from experience

Dr. Mitchell gained an early interest in veterinary medicine while growing up next-door to a veterinarian in the small eastern Ohio coal mining town of Cadiz. Later, when he applied to veterinary college at The Ohio State University, he was asked what he would do if he didn't get accepted. He told them he'd keep applying until he got to be a veterinarian.

After graduating from Ohio State in 1972, he completed an equine internship at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

"I was very naive about equine veterinary practice as a business when I graduated from veterinary school. I thought all vets were great people and all practices a utopia," he said in an interview with JAVMA News.

His wake-up call came after he took his first job offer with a practice in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that he knew very little about. Dr. Mitchell's boss would eventually receive 18 positive narcotic test results at the track and lose his racing license. In short, the new graduate learned a lot about what not to do and little about running a successful equine practice.

From then on, he wanted more control of the type of practice he'd be a part of, so he started his own. In 1975, Dr. Mitchell established a racetrack and pleasure horse practice, Equine Associates, in Boca Raton, Fla.

"Having not started in an established, quality practice with great mentorship is my only veterinary practice regret. It set me back at least 10 years in my practice development, and when I speak to veterinary students, I try to impress upon them that job interviews should be a 50/50 experience," he said.

2012 AAEP Executive Committee
The 2012 AAEP Executive Committee: Drs. John S. Mitchell, president; James P. Morehead, treasurer; Ann E. Dwyer, president-elect; Jeff A. Blea, vice president; and William A. Moyer, immediate past president

After 10 years of operating the practice with the help of his wife, Lynne, and up to two associates, Dr. Mitchell decided to downsize and concentrate predominantly on Standardbred care at the racetrack. He retired from practice in 1994 to spend time with Lynne, who died of complications associated with multiple sclerosis in 2004. In 2002, he returned to practice part time at Pompano Park and, this past April, officially retired.

Fiscal responsibility

Retiring (temporarily) at the age of 47 led him to become more active in another area he is passionate about: financial planning. His father, president of a local bank, first instilled in him an interest in business and investment matters.

Throughout his career, Dr. Mitchell has worked with clients to weigh the economic value of veterinary treatment options. Dr. Mitchell has written articles and presented on the topic of financial planning for veterinarians at national meetings. He mentored many young practitioners at the racetrack on the topic of preparing for a secure financial future by planning for retirement and controlling debt. It's a topic that he remains enthusiastic about to this day.

Dr. Mitchell maintains that for veterinarians, their overall lifestyle will be directly correlated with how well-managed their practice is.

"Well-managed practices have enough profits to create a good lifestyle while poor-managed practices are always busy, behind on bills, and pay too much for drugs, so the veterinarians work a lot and grumble about how bad life is," Dr. Mitchell said.

He sympathizes with equine practitioners who have been hit hard by flagging local economies but says that quality horse veterinary services will always be in demand. What may need to change, he said, is how practitioners charge for services.

"Larger practices have to educate clients on the quality of their practice versus having the same veterinarian seeing horses during visits, which has always been an advantage of solo practitioners. Yet, to have quality equipment and good profits, it won't be possible to have the same veterinarian visiting the horse each time," Dr. Mitchell said. "Vets also will have to educate clients on the value of the veterinarian for expertise in handling their equine's health care. It goes back to the client trusting the vet. Also, many vets will have to move from product sales and procedure charges and start charging more for professional services and consultation as it pertains to the horse."

In retirement, Dr. Mitchell enjoys spending time fishing on his boat. More frequently he is traveling with his current wife, Melodie, whom he wed in 2008.

Dr. Mitchell considers the AAEP his professional family. His AAEP-member colleagues have guided him through ethical decisions and practice scenarios for more than 40 years. During his term as president, Dr. Mitchell hopes to make more members aware of the value their AAEP membership can add to their professional and personal lives.

"As an organization, AAEP has a strong foundation of mentoring. I am a product of AAEP mentoring ... and I am going to do all I can to continue to expand the power of mentoring by our members," he said.

New officers, board members

The 2012 AAEP Executive Committee and new members of the board of directors (see photo) took office Nov. 21, 2011. New members of the board are Drs. Margo L. Macpherson, Gainesville, Fla., District III; Elizabeth "Lisa" Metcalf, Sherwood, Ore., District IX; Karen A. Nyrop, Calgary, Alberta, director-at-large; Steven S. Trostle, Earlysville, Va., District II; and Carolyn M. Weinberg, Newtown, Conn., District I.