Looking back over those initial exciting years of vet school and first years in practice, how much more could all of us have gained had we a system in place for networking with colleagues and improving our knowledge of business practices? In 2001, students at the University of Pennsylvania sensed this void and creating the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA). An idea that began as a three-student “chapter” turned into an organization inclusive of all veterinary colleges throughout the country with chapters in other countries.
Ashley Craig, DVM, past president of the VBMA and currently a practitioner at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Kentucky, explained the basic premise: “Due to the lack of business education in schools, students have to take the initiative to educate themselves. The VBMA helps provide the building blocks of business education through speakers, wet labs, national meetings and networking. No matter if a student plans to pursue practice ownership in the future or just to practice medicine as an associate, business is important to all veterinarians. Good business is good medicine.”
Organized and run exclusively by vet students and now numbering over 3,300 participants in schools across the country, the VBMA has set out to accomplish this end by arranging opportunities for students to pursue externships, internships and business education. At this time, nearly 34% of veterinary students are active members of the VBMA through school chapters. Each of these students is honing his or her leadership skills along with communication, timeefficiency and management skills.
Based on research by the KPMG Mega Study, Brakke Foundation, AVMAPfizer and the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI), it has become evident in recent decades that business education is an important element in improving both the quality of veterinary service and potential income from veterinary care. Results of the Brakke study reported, “Veterinarians who scored higher in financial acumen, or who owned or worked in clinics applying a large number of standard business and service practices, had higher average incomes than those who did not.”
The 2005 AVMA-Pfizer study concurred: “Regardless of the species focus of the veterinarian or practice, three overriding factors were associated with personal financial success–good business and financial management, employee management and client relations.” The study went on to conclude that agreement with the following statement, “I feel confident about managing the financial concepts of my business,” was highly correlated with income, but only 19% of practitioners proclaimed this confidence.
Both studies concluded that, “Many veterinarians are not earning up to their potential because of a lack of financial expertise, and/or because of the failure to use management practices proven to improve business performance.” These sobering comments have stimulated prospective veterinarians to take matters into their own hands to improve their earning potential and job satisfaction.
What Does the VBMA Hope to Achieve?
The VBMA mission statement proclaims, “Our organization is founded on the determination, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of future veterinary leaders who desire a higher level of business education than what is being offered through veterinary colleges. This allows us to pursue our own educational interests through lectures and hands-on experiences.”
The VBMA website (www.vbma.biz) provides an avenue for “conversation” between members about financial and organizational matters through their national discussion board. VBMA members are encouraged to attend the annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, where students meet with industry and academic leaders to discuss trends and opportunities.
The VBMA encourages attendance by noting that there is no finer place to network with other students and active professionals in the industry.
Having access to externship opportunities is an important benefit of VBMA membership. Externships serve a very practical means for future veterinarians by allowing them to work in a business environment that is dependent on the cost-benefit analysis of offering veterinary services.
Vet Partners has teamed up with VBMA students to assist in locating externships for summer pursuits or to provide clinical rotations in private practices during the academic year.
Working alongside practicing professionals in private clinics not only enables motivated students to dive in and obtain hands-on experience, but it additionally helps a student decide which clinical direction to pursue in his or her career while obtaining some business experience in that field.
Another advantage given to members of the VBMA is created by the non-profit organization Simmons & Associates, which offers the Simmons Educational Fund Business Aptitude Award of $3,000 to third-year VBMA students in each participating veterinary school—selection of the recipients of this award is based on students’ “excellence in business as represented by their response to a veterinary business case or writing prompt.” All students receiving this award are then able to compete for a national prize of $15,000 and a fully paid attendance to the Western Veterinary Conference.
In addition, there is a VPI-VBMA Student Case Study Challenge with small monetary rewards to the winners, including funds given to chapters who exceed a certain number of entries. The objective of the competition is for students to “obtain a sample invoice from a veterinary clinic, describe the clinical case and provide the benefits breakdown of a VPI Pet Insurance policy claim.”
Requirements are stipulated within the VBMA to maintain a high standard of business education during the vet school years. Craig noted, “Those students who are actively involved in the VBMA and complete the Business Certificate Program will graduate from veterinary school with a well-rounded business education. They enter into their first year of practice with greater communication skills, a basic understanding of business and a great business perspective on practice.”
Benefits of the VBMA to the Veterinary Industry
In a letter to practice owners, Craig implored private practitioners to hire VBMA members and alumni: “VBMA students are those who realize they will not always be practicing medicine in a classroom and that having business skills will make them better veterinarians. VBMA members are dedicated to pursuing excellence in all facets of veterinary education and will lead our profession into the future.
“New veterinarians, and veterinarians in general, cannot afford to rest on their laurels; they must find a way to differentiate themselves from the competition,” advised Craig.
“The VBMA helps students learn various ways to differentiate themselves and advance their future practices,” she added. “Through the use of social media, improved business management practices, leadership skills and greater focus on client outcomes, a VBMA graduate can make a great impact on a practice and help bring new skills to a clinic.”
She went on to emphasize that the VBMA is a group of “smart, highachieving students” who are not only looking at the here and now, but also looking ahead to the future.
“These cream-of-the-crop students provide a chance for current practitioners to enter into a dialogue and mentorship that is rewarding to both parties,” she said. “By getting involved in a VBMA chapter, a veterinarian has the chance to impact a large number of students and help educate the next generation.”
These young students of our profession who are involved in the VBMA are creating a new entrepreneurial template for the industry, and we should all take notice. Their team effort may be instrumental in reshaping the economics of an industry that has been hard hit by the country’s recent financial crisis and its adverse impact on veterinary services. These students are to be applauded for their motivation and spirit in trying to improve opportunities for all involved in veterinary medicine.