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June 15, 2020

Young veterinarians bring unique perspective to ownership

Business tips, advice for recent graduates
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Dr. Alli Reid knew she wanted to start a veterinary practice, but she didn’t plan to open one during a pandemic.

Dr. Reid with equine patient
Dr. Alli Reid, who earned her veterinary degree in 2018, started Muckalee Equine & Agri-Health Services, a mobile veterinary clinic, in April in De Sota, Georgia. (Courtesy of Dr. Reid)

In April, Dr. Reid started Muckalee Equine & Agri-Health Services, a mobile veterinary clinic in De Sota, Georgia.

“In my area, there are not many veterinarians who are doing mobile, large animal practice,” she said. “I wanted to fill that void.”

But Dr. Reid, who graduated in 2018 from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, is not your typical practice owner.

According to 2019 AVMA survey data, the mean age of a practice owner varies across specialties, but owners of companion animal–exclusive practices average 62 years old and owners of food animal–exclusive practices average 61 years old.

Dr. Reid isn’t really worried about her age, though. In fact, she said, being two years out of veterinary college makes her more excited and optimistic about the future of veterinary medicine.

She isn’t alone in that train of thought. Dr. Rob Trimble, director of the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy, said recent graduates bring a unique perspective and innovative ideas to a changing industry.

Some young veterinarians see ownership as a risky move considering high educational debt and the potential time commitment of owning a business, but JAVMA News spoke with veterinarians who said ownership is still the best path to financial security and fulfillment.

Age is just a number

“Your perspective is valuable as a young veterinarian or a recent graduate, and the value goes beyond your ability to diagnose and treat animals,” Dr. Trimble said.

The VEA focuses on innovation in animal health care by partnering with veterinary colleges and offering students leadership and business opportunities such as internships.

Dr. Trimble suggests the first step in entrepreneurship is to question areas of tension in an industry.

“If you experience tension somewhere, that is knowledge that there isn’t alignment. That tension is great information and feedback. If you experience that, there is an opportunity,” he said. “There is no shortage of tension in the veterinary profession.”

Tips, resources

Some advice that Dr. Reid has found helpful as a recent graduate and new owner is to follow your dreams but never get in over your head.

“Start out small,” she said. “Startup costs for a mobile veterinary practice are way less than building or buying a brick-and-mortar. If you have the resources for a mobile clinic, it is a low-risk and high-reward option.”

I think owning a practice is what will keep you in this profession for your full lifetime. I say that, having lived it. There is nothing that compares to being your own boss.

Dr. Mark Helfat, founder of Veterinary Practice Transitions

There are several potential resources for prospective owners, but Dr. Mark Helfat, the owner of Larchmont Animal Hospital in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, started Veterinary Practice Transitions specifically to help young veterinarians buy practices and older veterinarians sell.

“I think owning a practice is what will keep you in this profession for your full lifetime,” said Dr. Helfat, a former AVMA Board chair. “I say that, having lived it. There is nothing that compares to being your own boss.”

VPT is a nonprofit online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers.

Ownership is financially beneficial, said Dr. Peter Weinstein, chair of the AVMA Veterinary Economic Strategy Committee and a veterinary practice consultant.

“Even in the face of corporatization, independent ownership is usually the way to go, especially for people who want to be in leadership roles,” he said.

Buying in pandemic times

Despite the potential benefits related to practice ownership, the current economic situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic is concerning.

Students at VEA event
Some students at a Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy closing event in Omaha, Nebraska (Courtesy of the VEA) 

While Dr. Weinstein does believe ownership is the best path for veterinarians, he suggests waiting until the foundation resettles.

“It’s like living on a fault line, and everything is shaking,” he said. “Once everything settles down, there will be great opportunities for young doctors to set new business models and help pet owners with a new approach that comes out of the current disruptive world in which we live.”

Dr. Weinstein foresees several business changes such as no boarding or grooming services, no reception areas, more curbside check-ins, more telemedicine opportunities, and an increase in house call services.

He suggests potential practice owners go looking for a practice to buy but hold off purchasing until the economy recovers.

“Buyers should be conservative right now, but they shouldn’t be turned off,” Dr. Weinstein said. “Sellers need to do everything to keep their practice vital, vibrant, and thriving more than just surviving in the face of huge infection and financial challenges.”

Dr. Reid agrees that changes are coming to the profession. She foresees a lot more curbside services and mobile veterinary clinics.

“There will be an increased demand for mobile veterinarians—mixed, large, and companion animal,” she said. She thinks people appreciate mobile services.

Matthew J. Salois, PhD, director of the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, said pets are still a key part of people’s lives even during a pandemic.

“That is not changing,” he said. “In fact, there is a surge of people adopting and fostering pets.”

Dr. Reid agreed that veterinary care is still necessary, especially for food animal producers.

“There is a demand for veterinary care. They can’t stop what they are doing, and they have to continue to provide quality products for the food chain,” Dr. Reid said. “I wanted to be someone they could reach out to and depend on in this crisis that they are struggling through.”


Business tips for a pandemic

Dr. Rob Trimble, director of the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy, suggested the following business tips for veterinarians during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Build organizational adaptability by creating a purpose and values that emphasize team collaboration and partnership.
  • Be transparent with staff about information such as revenue concerns.
  • Hone communication skills. Learn better ways to interact, if necessary.
  • Seek out opportunities to learn new skills.

“These are just a few of the defensive measures that organizations can utilize to become more adaptable and resilient in the face of disasters,” Dr. Trimble said. “Whether it’s disruption fueled by technology or by coronavirus, the need for agility and adaptability has moved from a ‘nice to have’ to an organizational imperative.”



The AVMA has financial literacy resources for potential practice owners. AVMA Axon offers webinars related to practice ownership.

The Veterinary Business Management Association, a student organization, offers a certificate that includes learning business concepts, personal finance, and management skills.