We received a great response to our last blog on the broken business model of the typical veterinary college from Dr. Joop Loomans of Utrecht University. I thought that Dr. Loomans prepared such an eloquent response that it was worthy of a blog of its own. Thank you Joop.
As equine veterinarian you “get the customers you deserve”. This is what I tell students when I educate them on equine business management and it’s a statement that I really believe in. It refers to the colour theory of Léon de Caluwé on change management and is also related to internal branding. There are many different kinds of equine customers; those who find it important their horse is treated by a well known and respected vet, those who think it’s important to have vet a close personal relation with their vet, others only think about value for money or just want the cheapest and again others feel safe in a scientific and learning environment with their horses and those who go for vets who always have the newest/fancy “experimental” treatments available. To make it even more difficult to comprehend, it may even differ per case. Therefore I don’t believe equine teaching hospitals and private practices are really competitors. The equine industry needs the total spectrum of veterinary care.
At Utrecht University we have a long tradition of a university ambulatory clinic in the vicinity of the faculty clinic in a radius of about 25 kilometres around Utrecht. This goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century and has been in equilibrium with the growing numbers of private practices around Utrecht (by veterinarians the university educated!). Nowadays we live in perfect harmony with these practices and we all “get the customers we deserve”. Our customers are those who love to know more about their horses and their health, they don’t mind if a student is working with their horse as long as they get “added value” by learning with the students and of course the horse isn’t suffering. They don’t mind if the consultation and treatment of their horse takes longer, as long as it is not an emergency situation and they will pay a normal fee for these services (we calculate the time an experienced vet would need for a particular consultation and treatment). Therefore we do not compete on price and use the money we get for educating students to pay for the extra time we spend while educating. We find this a very good and simple way of pricing and we even find practice around us being cheaper than we are.
The situation might be a little more complicated for referral hospitals since, as Mike Pownall stated, Universities are often able to build larger facilities using public money. I remember Mike walking through our premises, wondering how much this would have cost (and how much the tax payer had invested). One should however bear in mind that teaching in a clinical setting with real patients requires a safe environment for patients, clients, students and teachers especially when the university education philosophy is to have an increased responsibility for students in patient care during their curriculum. We want students to learn by doing in a safe environment, starting in our clinic with our own horses, but this is quickly extended to real patient care in our hospital (both intra and extra mural). Later, in the final year (sixth year) students have eight weeks of clinical work in one of the five private equine practices in the Netherlands we work with.
Teaching veterinary medicine, educating young adults to become an equine veterinarian is a beautiful job. Together with the veterinary profession we have set standards by writing “Programme Outcomes of the Veterinary Curriculum”. This ensures the involvement of the veterinary profession in the education and the educational goals and makes us all responsible for the future of our profession. Therefore we should not loose ourselves in discussions about fair or unfair competition but join forces and work on a sustainable future of both your practices and our teaching hospitals.
Joop Loomans, PhD, DVM, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Equine Health, Utrecht University, the Netherlands.