Most veterinarians want to do an excellent job, regardless of what we are doing. We see this in our attention to detail, the pride in a surgery well done, or the research we do when we have a challenging case. Loose ends and wrong diagnoses lead to restless nights, but there are new patients the next day to redeem ourselves. If we just had veterinary medicine to deal with we can generally handle our professional life just fine.
But what happens when we are business owners, or have managerial responsibility? What do we do when we are responsible for the health of our business, as well as the health of our patients? Where is the training to take care of office drama between staff, or cash shortfalls during a slow period of the year? It sure doesn’t help us keep our focus on diagnosing and treating our patients. Do we sleep well? Are we focused on our families and personal lives? Not likely.
That was my life a few years ago during the height of the Great Recession. We have a busy veterinary practice and at the time I was one of the busiest vets, while being the managing partner. I was responsible for business development, marketing and dealing with our bankers. We had a great staff, but we would lose technicians, or receptionists for various reasons. We had a growing business in spite of the economic climate at the time, but we would have the occasional disgruntled client. Our equipment was starting to age and I had to go to our banker to discuss loans and other financing options so we could maintain our high standard of veterinary care. It was debilitating. I couldn’t focus on business and my veterinary responsibilities at the same time. I tried taking a day off from practice to just work in the office but I found that when I was seeing patients I was thinking of business issues, and during my management day I felt like I was neglecting my clients and patients. I couldn’t shut my mind off when I got home. I was constantly distracted and never felt like I was in the moment with my family. I felt like a dog chasing its tail. There had to be a solution. I had to become a better business person.
Since I hit that wall I have dedicated time to learning about business. I started out with sessions at conferences, to reading magazines and business books. Ultimately, I ended up doing an Executive MBA, but that isn’t for everyone. There is a significant time and financial commitment to that type of program.
Even before the MBA the result of this education has led to a transformation of our business, and the professional and personal lives for me, and my co-workers. Let’s discuss the business part first. Our business has continued to grow through some challenging economic times. This has allowed us to hire more vets and offer an excellent work life balance for them. We have a stable and engaged work force and we are financially stable. I feel we offer an even higher quality of patient care because we can afford excellent CE for our vets and staff. Which leads to an improvement in our professional lives. Our business has indicators in place to identify and prevent veterinary burn out, and we have programs to enhance the careers for our support staff. Overall our vets and staff are happy working for our business.
Finally, being a better business person has had a very positive impact on my personal and family life. First of all, I don’t spend as much time fretting over the business. I have good people that work with us and they help me run the company; it’s not all on my shoulders. I’m less worried about money because we are financially stable. We all know that money concerns are the cause of so much personal stress, so removing that worry is a huge relief. Finally, I have more time to devote to my family and myself. For the longest time my wife and I took the least amount of vacation in the business. Not anymore. Now we take vacations just like everyone else. I have free time in the evenings and weekends, I exercise regularly and I sleep and eat a lot better than I did before. Over all life is pretty good.
Learning to manage my business, instead of the business managing me has been one of the most positive things I have done for myself, my family and my co-workers. Like veterinary CE the learning never stops. Whether it is workshops or courses, or learning about new technologies and business tools the desire to keep learning must persist if we want the benefits to continue. Why waste time hitting your head against the wall when a little knowledge can lead to such positive changes.
Mike Pownall DVM, MBA