Veterinary Business Education: Not Just an Option—a Necessity!

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EBMS meeting 2015

Drs. Bob Magnus (left) and Mike Pownall speaking at a 2015 EBMS meeting.

Have you ever wondered whether you need to spend more time managing your business, rather than simply working in your business? The most common responses to this are:

  • “Why?”
  • “I don’t have time.”
  • “I can make more money taking care of horses by working harder and longer.”
  • “Someone else at the clinic takes care of the business end of things."
  • “Business? Well, it’s not my thing; we are doing just fine…”

The fact is that additional business training in today’s world is a necessity rather than an option for a truly successful equine veterinary practice.

This article will discuss some of the options available to improve your business skills. Finding resources involving the business side of veterinary medicine can have a significant positive impact on your business and lifestyle. The payoff for an initial investment of time and perhaps money can have a large impact on your staff and your practice.

Over the years, we have all learned a great deal by trial and error or in the “school of hard knocks.” In the past we had larger profits, less overhead and a different competitive market—you could make mistakes and still survive. Times have changed. Our customers have very high expectations and are technologically savvy. Diagnostic equipment is expensive, markups on medications and supplies are less than half of what they were 10 years ago, and the cost of doing business has increased exponentially. Taking those changes into account, the fact is that most practices’ fees have not kept pace with the rising cost of doing business. We must learn to work smarter, not harder and longer.

There are many opportunities available to veterinarians that enable us to improve business skills within the equine market and outside our industry. When we improve our business skills, everyone wins; the practice, the staff, the client and ultimately the horse benefits, as well. We have many challenges ahead in the equine industry, but together, over time, we can meet those challenges head on.

Outlined below are several options worth investigating. The four keys to a successful outcome are to select the right program for you, to truly engage in that program or event, to attend programs with exceptional instructors and to implement improvements in your business from the lessons learned.

Types of Educational Experiences 

Let’s start by separating the educational experiences and opportunities into a few categories: Conventions, Workshops, Multi-Day Programs, Online Resources, Academia and MBA Programs.

Outlined in Figure 1 at the end of this article are several programs and links that you might find helpful in starting your search for business training. Finding the right program begins with understanding the options available and determining what will be gained from the event. The experience and outcomes must meet your expectations. You are making an investment of two precious resources: time and money. Consider how much the program will cost, how much time it will take and what you will get out of the educational experience. Is the program at a level that you can understand, and will you be able to take concepts back to your practice and implement them? Do you really feel that this is a worthwhile use of your time and energy?

Below I will share some of my insights and experiences. This list of options is in no way an all-inclusive list, but it is a good place to begin.

Veterinary Conventions

Many veterinary industry conventions include business seminars during their main events. This is a great opportunity to mix both medical and business continuing education (CE) in one location. The challenging part is to select which seminars to attend, which means you face the continual pull toward the passion of veterinary medicine vs. the need to learn business skills. In addition, it’s tough to know what you don’t know in business when there has been so little exposure to business in schooling. In recent years, the AAEP has increased its focused on business and life skills during the annual convention, bringing high-caliber business topics and presenters to its members. Consider convention business education venues; they can be very cost effective and target both business and medicine continuing education.

Workshops and Seminars

These programs are one-day events focusing on one or more topics. They are offered by industry, pharmaceutical companies and private firms in a wide array of locations and take place throughout the year. It is a nice way to get a substantial amount of information in a short, topic-focused event. Reach out to your distributer, equipment vendor or pharmaceutical rep and ask about the opportunities in which they are involved to support you and your business.

Multi-Day Programs

Programs that encompass more than one day offer the opportunity to get to know others and to expand your business network. In the equine industry, immersion programs of three or more days create a special learning environment. In an immersion-style learning environment, you’ll have access to industry experts and other business professionals providing insight about managing your practice. You’ll be exposed to cutting-edge theories and practical steps to implement a growth strategy for your business and learn how to align your team to meet your professional and personal goals. These programs create a unique and valuable environment in which participants can network and share experiences, challenges and possible solutions. Two options to consider are the Inova Practice Management Summits and the Equine Business Management Strategies Programs (EBMS). These programs are held in the United States and in other countries throughout the year.

Online Courses, Articles and Webinars

Online education has had ups and downs over the past few years, but it is able to provide quick, easily accessible information about important business skills. From free programs to pay-to-view programming, online courses or seminars offer a great deal of flexibility for busy prac titioners. The key is finding the right program that helps you in your practice.

Academia

I have found two different venues in academia that can provide valuable educational experiences outside of the traditional MBA track. First, consider an area technical college. One of the most valuable programs I attended early in my career was an Accounting 101 semester-long night class. The class met once a week. The course taught me some basics of accounting and financial reporting that have been extremely helpful in my daily life.

Second, consider executive education courses (adult learning programs) or certificates at local university business schools. Fifteen years ago I attended a program on leadership that changed my life and my perspective of my role within my own practice. The point is that not all business education has to come from within the veterinary industry. There is a great deal we can all learn from other industries and their approaches to business.

MBA-Type Programs

A Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is one of the gold standards in business education training. As you explore the different programs around the country, you will encounter a variety of types of MBA programs. The programs vary from strictly online courses to graduate work on site at a university. This is an intense, time-consuming learning experience that can be expensive and very rewarding. Time and expense tend to be the limiting factors when deciding to attend these types of programs.

A new approach to business education is the development of blended programs offering both online training and on-site education tailored to specific industries. For example, Colorado State University (CSU) and a few other veterinary schools have offered an MBA program along with a DVM degree. Oculus Insights, a new business education company, has created a five-year blended and customized business educational curriculum for the veterinary industry. The program philosophy is to provide the students with a great business foundation and useful tools to improve practice skills, profitability and sustainability throughout the course work. Considered a non-traditional approach, the curriculum is comparable to Executive MBA programs, and some courses tailor specifically to the veterinary industry.

Take-Home Message

Every individual and practice is unique, but we do share common experiences, challenges and business basics that are unchanging. All veterinarians will benefit from additional business education at an appropriate level during or after veterinary school. Follow the four keys to success and your efforts will be rewarded. Those four keys are:

  1. Select the right program for you;
  2. Truly engage in that program or event;
  3. Attend programs with exceptional instructors; and
  4. Implement improvements in your business from the lessons learned.

Take the time to investigate the options and develop a plan that works in your life, meets your expectations and helps you improve your business skills and work-life balance. Maintain your enthusiasm for continued personal growth and education ... consider yourself a lifelong student! In today’s market, developing and improving your business skills is a necessity.

Disclaimer: The author of this article has a financial interest in the Oculus Veterinary Business School and Equine Business Management Strategies programs listed above. His philosophy is simple: There are never too many options to help practitioners improve their business skills. The more program offerings to select from, the better. One shoe does not fit all.

About the Author

Dr. Magnus is the CEO of Wisconsin Equine Clinic & Hospital. He has active roles in two business education firms, Oculus Insights and EBMS, and he gives lectures on business topics in meetings around the globe. His passion is developing business strategies and implementing those strategies in a profitable and sustainable manner. If you have any questions, you can reach the author at bmagnus@oculusinsights.net.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in the summer 2016 EquiManagement magazine. 

Figure 1

Resource Recommendations

Industry Focused Business Schools:

Websites, Listservs & Blogs

Online Courses, Articles & Webinars

Industry Options

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