Within the equine veterinary world, one avenue of job pursuit might be to get involved in industry. Pharmaceutical corporations are a mainstay to the veterinary industry and can present a relevant career path for some veterinarians. Other jobs available in private, public or commercial industries might include corporate leadership, business or research (animal health, nutrition or as applied to human health).
Earl Gaughan, DVM, DACVS, has worked in a variety of equine veterinary settings, including decades at several universities and another decade in private practice. Having experienced a gamut of job positions as a board-certified surgeon, he is enthusiastic about his new position in industry as technical service veterinarian at Merck Animal Health. He suggested that when seeking a position in the corporate world, start with a job description that sparks your interest.
“Most DVMs with practice experience orient in a certain species or skill direction,” said Gaughan. “The job market within industry is very competitive, and while there is strong interest from equine veterinarians, there are typically only a small number of jobs available at any one time. Due to the highly competitive nature of these opportunities, those with specific credentials (board certified, PhD) and those with clinical experience perhaps have improved odds of securing a position.
“For those interested in administrative pursuits, it helps to know that it is rare for a veterinarian to walk into an industry job and be put in charge of a business unit,” he continued. “That said, those with an MBA may be looked at more seriously.
“While a company doesn’t necessarily turn down applications, there are a large number of applicants for each position, and new graduates may find the opportunities filled with more experienced veterinarians,” he noted. “The animal health units in a pharmaceutical company represent only a small facet of potential jobs in industry. Other possibilities exist that are not necessarily equine-related; examples include food animal (even fish), companion animal and applied human research from animal models.”
Examples of possible corporate jobs to choose from include:
- research and development (R&D)
- technical services—often supporting the sales team with updated data and clinical trials
- business unit leadership and administration
- pharmacovigilance—monitoring biologic and pharmaceutical efficacy and any complications
- supporting and monitoring the development and implementation of new drugs and biologics
- coordinating human and veterinary drug and instrument development
- educating the end user about product development
A technical service position is a good fit for an equine practitioner because the job capitalizes on knowledge gleaned from an extensive veterinary education and practice experience.
Gaughan noted that many times, the position of technical service representative includes a lot of travel on the road. “An industry position often entails a particular lifestyle,” he said. “The amount of travel depends on the position and job requirements. Some positions keep a person at a home office or lab, whereas others require weekly travel to support sales personnel within the company. When not on the road, time is spent at the home office. Before one hires on, the amount of travel is typically a known part of the job. Negotiating a change would most likely involve moving to a different position.”
As an example of job partitioning for a technical services veterinarian, Gaughan explained, “A technical service job primarily provides support to the sales team. A company will not exist to do ‘other’ things if the business is not solvent and profit producing. Support to sales is critical. Communications are done via one-on-one conversations, professional to professional, at individual veterinary practices and in venues like a veterinary group continuing education meeting or in horse owner education seminars.
“It turns out that horse owners are a good audience to educate,” he continued. “Other communications avenues include webinars, conference calls and writing material for both scientific and lay publications.”
He pointed out that good communication skills are a fundamental requirement of an industry position. “Personal conversations with veterinarians tend to be fairly casual,” said Gaughan. “Sales personnel are not allowed to discuss anything other than on-label uses of a product. In contrast, as a veterinarian, it is possible to have off-label use discussions about a product, particularly when there has been more developed and specific research since the time a product became FDAapproved. These areas of information are beneficial for veterinarians to know about. Although no longer hands-on, as in clinical practice, technical representatives can be a solid resource to the profession.”
Gaughan sees many distinct advantages to his industry job. “Just as in private practice, a technical service veterinarian’s job varies week to week. While it requires quite a bit of time away from home, there is no emergency work and it is rare for the shadow of a difficult case to keep you up at night. Forming a vast network with practitioners all over the country has also provided a great opportunity to learn new things. Introducing a deeper understanding of immunology and pharmaceutical development into discussions of medical and surgical cases with private equine practitioners has increased my knowledge base and perspective of veterinary practice.”
Overall, Gaughan has very positive things to say about an industry position: “I have been impressed by the ethics of the animal health company I work for. We are never asked to put ourselves in compromising positions to sell something. We are asked to listen, to educate, to provide information and respond to questions in the field. Furthermore, being engaged in this kind of interaction with private practitioners has expanded my understanding and perception of the horse world.”
Typically, when we think of a job in “equine industry,” what comes to mind is a position at one of the big pharmaceutical corporations. as described above. Yet there are other ways to involve oneself in industry as an equine veterinarian. One such way is to strike out with your own small business enterprise.
Jay Altman, DVM, of Equine Veterinary Service in Fort Collins, Colorado, has parlayed his private practice experience into a small business to market a veterinary commodity. “Starting up a company in the veterinary health industry takes more than just a solid idea,” he said. “First, there is recognition of either a problem or a need, and then hopefully the development of a great solution.”
Altman focused his idea on finding a solution for colic prevention using nutraceuticals. “Running with the idea entailed significant exploration into both equine and human medical research and clinical practice,” he said. “If you are going to be interfacing with colleagues, practice experience is a major benefit.
“Regardless of the business, one of the biggest challenges for a startup business is funding, especially if one doesn’t want to give away equity at the onset,” remarked Altman. “An outside source of money either necessitates borrowing or delving into internet-based financing models.”
Such financial sources are referred to as crowd funding or crowd sourcing, such as seen with Kickstarter. As Altman noted, “Borrowing may be challenging, since conventional lenders tend to sway away from loaning money to anyone lacking starting capital—they are not in the business of taking risk with you.”
Altman stressed that in today’s world, most investors want to see something that is up and running, so it is important to have a prototype or a product to stimulate funding.
The “startup period” is the period from the first business action or activity until the point at which the business is profitable and generates enough of its own cash to fund its operations, service its debt and continue to grow. “This period can be as short as 6-12 months or as long as several years,” Altman said. “Funding during this period most often comes from personal savings, cashing in on personal assets, borrowing from family or friends, or credit card debt. The big danger for startups is underestimating the cash requirements of the business.”
He cited an important lesson from one of his role models in business management, Harold Geneen: “You can make a lot of mistakes in business, you just cannot make one: Don’t run out of cash, or they take you out of the game.”
Equine veterinarians are positioned well to be involved in a small business startup of an equine product. “Veterinary experience and education help to maximize the impact of what your product can do,” said Altman. “A veterinary background is essential to the business model because the veterinarian has ‘walked in these shoes’ and can commiserate with the needs of a practice owner when promoting the product.”
Some veterinarians might wish to continue in private practice while also managing a business startup to promote a developed product. “Realizing that either one can be a full-time endeavor, it is important to be clear about the goals and aspirations for both,” Altman advised. “Businesses are like living entities, and they go through development stages on their road to maturity. In the infancy stage, like children, they require lots of oversight and direction, which takes a lot of time.”
The responsibility of a startup company in equine industry contrasts with other corporate enterprises. As Altman pointed out, “Corporate positions are protected by plenty of cash and a big organization. In a small business model, everything that goes wrong is your responsibility, and this encompasses a lot of risk and stress. You have to be willing to take the burden of business on your shoulders; that is not for everyone. For those who like it, it is invigorating, because one is constantly solving problems at least as much as with a patient caseload.”
Another characteristic that is important to a small business is to have an internally tough personality, said Altman. “It is key that people appreciate you and trust you as a leader. These characteristics are essential to grow the passion that grows the company in the direction you want it to go.”
There isn’t enough space to go into the specifics for every job that a veterinarian might find outside of day-to-day practice. Others might include special skills or interests, such as working for a large or small feed manufacturer. There are many smaller companies that have veterinarians on staff or as part of the ownership team, and that “shared” responsibility and risk might be more palatable to some equine practitioners looking for a different income area.
There is an alternative track to private practice that one can follow to pursue a job within the veterinary profession: business and industry. Corporate positions are available with good salaries and benefit packages that complement the inspiration and learning one obtains from such a position.
A small startup business is another practical avenue that is different from the corporate world and might be more fitting for those wishing to work for themselves or with a small group. The nature of a veterinary education makes veterinarians not only professionals, but also provides portable skills that can be used for various business ventures besides private practice.