By Mark Helfat, DVM
Recent articles in veterinary trade magazines and JAVMA illustrate the changing landscape of veterinary medicine today. The smaller and independent veterinary practice which has dominated our profession for years is now challenged by the new entry of corporate ownership and its ‘mega’ facility. While there is a place for both models, it is apparent that the independent practitioner has his/her work cut out when it is time to retire and hopefully pass it on. “Who will buy my practice?” and “How do I sell my practice?” are now common refrains. There must be thousands of practitioners, representing every corner of veterinary medicine, who will someday find themselves in this dilemma.
Similarly, it was once the goal of every graduate to someday own a practice. Sadly, the economic debt, the ‘super-sizing’ of our practices, and the changes in lifestyle preferences now work against this dream of practice ownership and the inherent joy and fulfillment which so many veterinarians have experienced over a long, productive , and successful career.
On an optimistic note, one finding reported in the 2019 AVMA Economic Summit summary concluded that “Independent practices can’t be Chewy or Amazon, but….Chewy and Amazon can’t be you either. Smaller practices can leverage a more intimate relationship to create value for clients.”
Further hope for the small, independent practice was detailed in the AVMA@work blog (July 15, 2020) where their Chart of the Month touched on this exact subject. An excellent graphic indicated that the large corporate practices “account today for 10-15% of all practices. Over the next five years or so their share is expected to grow to 20-25%. The growth in large practices will mostly squeeze out practices with 5-19 employees, which are an important target for consolidation. Small practices with fewer than five employees probably will decline a bit, but will remain a significant share of the veterinary profession …….Consolidation is a natural evolution in nearly every sector of our economy, and there’s still room for small and independent practices to thrive. While larger practices have economies of scale that allow them to be very competitive, especially on price, smaller practices have their own advantages. They’re especially well positioned to compete on client experience and delivering patient value. There will always be room for smaller practices to build trust and relationships with clients in ways that larger practices may find difficult. In addition, smaller practices can specialize and carve out niche markets, like feline-only practices.”
Veterinary Practice Transition has been established to continue and foster the dream of independent ownership while also serving the practitioner who now seeks to retire and pass on a veterinary career’s success and accomplishment in a profitable manner. This nonprofit is unique in that it truly addresses a very urgent need of today, right now, while trying to preserve a most valuable piece of our profession’s future.