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The New Veterinarian as Solo Practice Owner

With the class of 2011 graduating new vets are facing challenges that no recent grad has ever faced. By recent I mean in the last 30 years. There may have been the same paucity of jobs in the early 80s when we were in another long recession but nothing like there is now. Consider this! There are 32 jobs available for 720 applications on the AAEP web site. That means there are 23 resumes for every job.  It is now easier to get into vet school than it is to get a job as an equine vet upon graduation. For those of you who are practice owners do you see yourself needing to hire a new associate within the next year or two? To really make a new grad, or retiring vet who wants to retire cry, keep in mind that the average vet student graduates with $133,000 in debt. Whether students are borrowing and spending wisely for their education is a discussion for another day. What is a new grad going to do with this mountain of debt and no prospect of a job going to do?

More and more I am seeing new vets start their own practices following an internship. To do so immediately after graduating would doom the endeavor to failure but after an internship it might be a necessity in spite of the challenges. There are 2 reasons why a post intern grad might start their own practice.

If a new associate is going to work very hard they might as well work for themselves.

  • There are no jobs. If you want to be a vet and nobody is hiring what are you going to do?
  • Cultural disconnect between older practice owners and new grads. Older vets have a work ethic unique to them. Many want their associates to work as hard as they do regardless of the strain this puts on family life or outside interests. If a new associate is going to work very hard they might as well work for themselves. As for the work life balance typically they are not very busy as they start out so there is plenty of time to be involved with family or hobbies.

It would be nice to view this progression with a chuckle and shake of the head as we wish them good luck but I worry that there may be some unintended consequences for the equine veterinary industry.

  • Poor business decisions made by the new practice owner may create a new level of expectations amongst horse owners. A new business may cut prices with the hope of getting new customers. A new vet will not have the appreciation of the difficulties or challenges of the job and likely won’t value their skill and education. All they care about is getting work.
  • These new vets might have a better sense of customer service and a willingness to try newer medical techniques. I know when we started our practice that we rejected many of the conventional attitudes of older practices that we had spent time in and tried to show our clients extra attention along with a willingness to try new things. This was a differentiating factor between us and other vets and allowed us to grow a practice very quickly.

So where does this leave the older and established practices and the young bucks starting out? This might sound counter intuitive but I would suggest taking the high road and arranging an introductory meeting. Encouraging professionalism will benefit everyone the most. The older vet can explain why they price the way they do. The younger vet can discuss newer techniques. The end result should be mutual respect. I have been spending some time recently with companion animal vets and I am amazed at how much they collaborate and refer to specialists unlike the “I can do everything” equine vet. Who knows if this new vet may be in a position to buy the practice of the older vets in time or if the established practice can cover on call for the new kid in town?

At the end of the day it is in the best interest of everyone if our profession is conducted with integrity that does not diminish the value of veterinarians in the eyes of our clients.

Have you had a new vet open a practice in your area recently? If so how did you respond?



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