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October 15, 2021

VHMA celebrates 40 years of advancing veterinary managers

Published on September 29, 2021

VHMA logoBefore the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association’s founding in 1981, most veterinary hospitals were not managed by people with the unique skills needed to run the business side of a practice, according to the association. Instead, veterinarian owners usually assumed a dual role, caring for animals and dealing with finances, human resources, and other practice management essentials, or had their spouses assist.

Mark Opperman was a rare exception—a nonveterinarian who successfully managed a 12-doctor veterinary practice.

“I was presenting at a hospital design conference when I met several colleagues who were also non-DVM practice managers,” said Opperman, who became VHMA’s first president, in a VHMA press release. “We commiserated about the lack of resources and information available to practice managers and decided we could do something about it.”

That discussion laid the foundation for creating the VHMA. Through the work of the association’s 13 founding members and the leaders that followed, VHMA professionalized practice management by establishing standards and the credential of certified veterinary practice manager while growing to more than 4,200 members.

VHMA founding members
The founding members of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association circa 1981 (Photos courtesy of VHMA)

Initially, many veterinarians were reluctant to hand over practice management responsibilities, according to the VHMA.

To show how having a hospital manager could benefit a practice, the organization clarified practice management roles and created job descriptions that distinguished among office manager, practice manager, and hospital administrator. Each job description highlighted essential tasks and skills.

Practice managers, at the time, were also largely seen as administrative assistants, according to the VHMA, but as the organization grew, it offered education, resources, and a network of colleagues that contributed to members’ professional development. Tools helped managers define their role and advocate for recognition and responsibilities in the practice.

“Early on, VHMA invested heavily in analytics because members were eager to learn as much as they could about the economics of establishing and running a practice,” said Owen E. McCafferty, 1993-94 VHMA president, in the press release.

Mark Opperman with DeeDee Prather
Mark Opperman, VHMA’s first president, with DeeDee Prather, VHMA’s first executive director and a member of his staff

Finally, the launch of the program to certify practice managers played a pivotal role in professionalizing the position, said Sandra Brown Wiltshire, 2001-03 VHMA president. In 2006, the program earned accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Now, thanks to VHMA and its leaders and members, a job that was once done mostly by veterinarians out of necessity is now a well-defined professional career held by people with a highly specialized skill set.

“VHMA is comprised of generous, welcoming, and caring members who understand that the association’s success depends on our members’ success,” said Michelle Gonzales-Bryant, VHMA president. “Reaching 40 years of success is a tremendous accomplishment, and I am grateful to the many people who have supported and contributed to VHMA: past officers and boards of directors, members, sponsors, and staff.”