What inspired you to become a veterinarian?
I was inspired to become a veterinarian from a very young age. I was a dog-crazy little girl who would bring home strays from the neighborhood and I’m pretty sure my first word was “dog.” I asked my mom for a dog every day of my life until I turned nine, when I got my first pet. I got a golden retriever, his name was “Frisky,” and he was the best thing to ever happen to my little nine-year-old self. When I was fifteen and he was only six, he got osteosarcoma, so we spent a lot of time at the vet, kind of discussing what was going on. It really, really piqued my interest, although that vet told me you have to be really smart to be a veterinarian. I was like, “I know, lady. I am.” (laughs) I would love to go find her and tell her that I did become a veterinarian. I also worked in an animal shelter and volunteered for basically my whole life, so all of the homeless pets, all of those pets that are in need, really inspired me to go back to school and become a vet.
Did you always want to own your own practice?
I like being in charge, as silly as that sounds. (laughs) I like doing things how I want to do them, and for me that means basically treating people right, doing things really ethically, really morally, holding myself to a high standard, and holding those around me to a high standard.
What was your experience of buying an existing practice? What hurdles did you face?
So my experience in buying an existing practice...was interesting. (laughs) I found the practice for sale in an eight-month-old Facebook post in a random Facebook group. I reached out to (the owner) and he was awesome, just so supportive through the whole thing and helpful with the different nuances of things. The practice that I was an associate at was being sold to a corporate group and I was offered to buy into it, which would’ve been nice as an investor. But to me, that’s not ownership. Ownership is being able to make decisions, it’s not all about the finances. It’s being able to say, “Hey, I want to take a staff out for a celebration.” Or, “Hey, we’re going to close for a long holiday weekend and have some extra time off.” It’s not solely about the money for me, so buying a practice gave me the freedom to kind of do what I want, how I want, when I want, and that was the biggest reason why I did it.
How did you improve the practice since you bought it?
It's been everything from upgrading equipment to hiring new employees to improving client interactions. We upgraded a ton of the equipment, got new surgical lights. We brought in a companion laser and upgraded the in-house lab equipment because it was fairly outdated. Employees wise, we had three employees when I started that I inherited from the previous clinic, two of whom are amazing and are still here. Since then, we’ve been able to hire and we just brought on our fifteenth (employee) this week, which has been incredible. So fifteen employees in just over a year, including a second doctor, which has been amazing. She has been an absolute godsend and I’m so, so lucky to have her as well as the rest of the staff.
What was your hiring process like?
We really have just used Indeed. I think the biggest reason why we’ve been able to hire at the rate that we have is our ad- our job ad is really well written, and really fun, and it showed the personality of ourclinic. So many ads are like, “We are looking for a certified veterinary technician. We want to make sure you can place catheters and make sure you can kind of do the basics of the job.” They all read super similar. So when we created ours, we made sure it was different: “Yeah, you’re a CBT or an experienced non-credentialed technician. Cool. Hopefully everyone else is as well that’s looking at this job. But here’s what makes us different. Here’s what makes our team the one you want to come work for.” We also always bring people in for working interviews prior to hiring them just to see how skills go, see how they’ll fit with the team. That is honestly my number one priority when hiring is making sure it’s going to be a good fit culturally. Making sure they’re going to want to come to work and not only work hard, of course, but have fun and be a joy to be around, and truly, our staff is.
What are your values as a practice owner?
I want to make sure that as the practice leader, I'm showing everyone that I have my team’s back. So I think that’s first and foremost- making sure that everyone knows that I’m going to support them not only on the day to day with client interactions, patient interactions, other employee interactions, but also support them in what they want long-term. Do they want to grow into that technician position? Do they want to go to vet school? How can I support them as they continue to grow? I also put a high value on making sure that our employees are taken care of not only from a financial standpoint but also stuff like health insurance, 401k, things that a lot of corporations are able to offer but that mom and pop vet clinics traditionally have been a little bit slower to adopt.
What do you enjoy most about being a practice owner?
We had a twenty-year-old kid bring a dog in that had been vomiting, not wanting to eat, and it turned out that the dog had an obstruction. The owner got denied for care credit so I made a phone call to CRISP (Chicagoland Rescue Intervention and Support Program), which my rescue is part of. They were able to financially help with part of the surgery, but not all of it. So I looked at the kid and said, “Hey, I’m going to trust you. If you don’t come back and help to pay down this bill then that’s on me, but I’m trusting that you’re going to do it.” I would not be able to do that as an associate somewhere in most cases- to put my faith in him, and have him put his faith in me. We were able to save his dog and get that peach pit out of her tummy and he did come back and pay his bill. That was one of those cases where I’m like, “This is why I became a vet. To help that pet and to help that pet owner where they couldn’t have (received care) otherwise.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring practice owners?
Oh wow, where to begin. My biggest piece of advice for aspiring practice owners is to think about the people. If you have the right team in place and you and that team have the right attitudes, you will go far. My practice manager was a technician at my old job and she has truly taken off. She loves it. She reads all the things, joins all the Facebook groups, attends all the conferences and has just really has grown into that role because she’s passionate about this clinic. Having heart and drive is as important as experience.
Other advice for aspiring practice owners: I would say make sure that you have good work/life balance. (When you're an owner), you're the only one who can make those decisions for yourself. For me, I work hard and play hard; I work a lot of hours, and then I go on vacation. For other people, that might mean making your clinic hours eight to five, Monday through Friday, and not being open on weekends. Everybody’s work/life balance looks different and I think that’s really an important thing to take into consideration when you are becoming a practice owner. What do you want your life to look like? If you don't take the time to consider your life outside work, it can get overwhelming fast.
Also, find a truly solid rescue group in your area and work with them. They send all of the crazy dog ladies your way, and then those crazy dog ladies send their crazy dog lady friends to you, and on it goes. (These rescues) put their faith in you. They put their trust in you. We see their personal pets, of course, too, but my staff and I feel so good about doing rescue work every day. It’s a fun, motivating, feel-good kind of thing for the whole team.
And let's see, a few last quick tips- Rely on those who know what they’re doing. Find and rely on a good attorney. Find and rely on a good accountant. Rely on your good supports with things like the AVMA Trust for your insurances. You don’t want to go into practice ownership without proper liability coverage, without proper... well, all the other coverages you need!
Any parting words?
find a truly solid rescue group in your area and work with them. They send, all of the crazy dog ladies send their crazy dog lady friends to you. They put their faith in you. They put their trust in you. And find a solid group with a good reputation and work with them. It’s a really nice kind of built-in clientele. I feel good doing rescue work every day and then we see their personal pets, of course, too. But my staff feels good about doing rescue work every day. It’s like a really fun, really motivating, really just kind of feel-good thing for the whole team.