Being a fantastic vet is only half the story to running a successful practice. The other half is how good at business you are. Luckily, there are lots of business courses you can do to help you be more enterprising. By Heather Vaile
The veterinary market in Australia is changing. Growing corporatisation of the sector, new cost pressures associated with technological advancements, increasing specialisation of services, rising rents/real estate prices in sought-after big city locations, more people taking up pet insurance and changing expectations from pet owners are all contributing to a more complex operating environment for practice owners.
To make the most of your commercial opportunities and ensure you are well placed to cope with changing circumstances, the chances are you’re going to need a mix of both clinical skills and knowledge and business acumen.
If you’re feeling a bit ‘underdone’ on the business side of things, the good news is you aren’t alone! These days it’s becoming more common for vets to take on postgraduate courses ranging from short, targeted business programs right up to the gold standard, two-year Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees.
Dr Paula Parker, president of the Australian Veterinary Association and chair of the AVA’s Veterinary Business Group (VBG), is one vet who’s decided to go the whole nine yards in terms of developing her business credentials via an MBA.
She will finish her MBA in June of this year and says studying for this extra qualification has helped her to learn to look at things differently and to better understand people and systems from multiple perspectives.
“It has also helped me with productivity,” she adds. “Despite my love of lists, I can be a terrible procrastinator and through what I have learnt and the discipline of the study, I am better able to manage projects successfully to completion.”
“Business education is key to making the most of the opportunities available, creating new ones and mitigating the risks.”—Dr Paula Parker, president, AVA
So, enrolling in an MBA is certainly one option, but there are also others that might be less time-consuming and costly, and which may suit you better if you are already working long hours and paying off a sizable student debt. For example, you can enhance your business management skills through less formal learning opportunities like networking with peers or joining professional groups and attending targeted professional continuing education events.
The AVA’s VBG aims to provide veterinary practice managers and owners with exactly the kind of support, skills and tools they need to build successful businesses through meetings, webinars and a range of online and published resources.
Dr Parker says, “Business education is key to making the most of the opportunities available, creating new ones and mitigating the risks.”
The signature event for the VBG each year is the annual ‘summit’ of members. Dr Parker says at this event the VBG aims to “facilitate group learning and connect people with a passion for our sector”.
James Ramsden is a vet who has left clinical practice and now runs a start-up online marketing business for vets. He is also on the AVA’s VBG Advisory Committee and attended the inaugural summit last year. “The summit was there to stimulate people to think about how to improve their businesses,” he explains. “Some of the key messages that came out of it was how do we involve students better in the business. It’s a problem for the industry when you get graduates coming out and they don’t have a sense of how to operate well in a veterinary business.”
The VBG also contributes a business stream at the AVA annual conference, hosts practice tours, roadshows, workshops and webinars. Dr Parker says, “There’s a richness that comes from group learning and debate, especially about business—and making connections is also important.”
Some vets also employ professional advisers like business coaches, accountants or lawyers to help with practical advice on important business issues. Queensland firm Crampton Consulting Group (CCG, a division of Provet), for example, offers both business and personal coaching programs, along with a host of other veterinary training options from e-learning in customer service, HR and strategic planning to professional development events such as client care, leadership and team masterclasses and business intelligence workshops. CCG also offers “business health checks” for practices, workplace wellness strategies and in-practice training for your team. They will even make mystery shopping calls to your practice to give you an objective assessment of how you’re doing in terms of customer service.
“Many veterinarians fail to see the link between the study of business and the quality of care you can deliver to your patients. We all became vets because we want to care for animals, and in the real world that means you must have the funds to do so.”—Dr Antony Karolis, CEO, WellPet Vets
There are also specialist consultancies which can provide comprehensive management support and development plans for vet practices at various stages of business development, such as that run by Dr Antony Karolis from Penrith, NSW.
Dr Karolis is the CEO of WellPet Vets which has several practices in Western Sydney and one in the lower Blue Mountains. He also has an MBA and says, “Many veterinarians fail to see the link between the study of business and the quality of care you can deliver to your patients. We all became vets because we want to care for animals, and in the real world that means you must have the funds to do so.”
Other options besides doing an MBA or joining the VBG are study programs like the Graduate Diploma in Veterinary Professional Leadership and Management offered through University of Melbourne’s veterinary faculty.
Don’t overlook your local university, TAFE college or specialist providers either, who may offer business courses in your state or territory. TAFE courses aren’t just for vet nurses, you know! Western Sydney TAFE, for example, claims over 20 per cent of their students already have a degree. And while these types of courses may lack the cachet of an MBA, you may still be able to earn very useful qualifications in business management, accountancy and human resource management for under $3000 (subject to eligibility). Some of these courses may be offered at a nearby campus, online or possibly even both.
University short courses and study programs offered by private colleges such as APM College of Business and Communication (which is part of the larger Think Group) may also offer the same state government subsidised prices as TAFE.
Whatever career path you’re on, it’s good to know you’ve got plenty of business education pathways available to you when the time is right. Just be realistic and consider what option suits you best in terms of your existing work and family commitments, your professional goals and preferred learning style, the timeframe involved for completion, and of course, your budget.