The Business of Practice: Preparing to Retire
Dr. Ann Dwyer helps equine veterinarians think about and plan their retirements from the first day of practice.
Dr. Ann Dwyer
Dr. Ann Dwyer

In this podcast episode, we talk to veterinarians about preparing to retire. Our guest Ann Dwyer, DVM, said, “When you are in a practice—especially when you are an owner—you really start to think about getting out about the same time you are getting in.”

She advised that “this is a tough business, and you always want to have a Plan B.” In the podcast she discusses a debilitating injury she experienced in her career that fortunately she was able to recover from after a period away from practice.

Dwyer said the process of setting up a legal entity for an equine practice—whether it is an LLC, S Corp or C Corp—should encompass a structure of how that practice can be transferred to someone else. She advised that practitioners should consider death, disability, divorce or retirement in this structure for an eventual tranfer of the veterinary practice.

“Practitioners, wherever you are on your journey, prepare now,” said Dwyer. “It’s really best to plan now to hand over the reins before you are unable to do the work. That’s the best way to serve your colleagues and your clients.”

Life Considerations for Preparing to Retire

Dwyer discussed several scenarios and potential aspects of aging that can and probably will affect your need to plan to retire, or at least cut back on your hours of work. Those can include aging, whether you are “slowing down,” can’t see as well at night, or are just too tired at the end of a normal day.

She said you also need to consider the possibility of parental caretaking and how that might affect your ability to work full-time.

“In your 60s, you have losses of those near and dear to you,” Dwyer said. “You should enjoy life while you are still in good health.”

Tips for Preparing to Retire

Dwyer offered some tips in this podcast for veterinarians who are thinking about retirement. This might be a long way off, or coming sooner than you think.

  • Hire good advisors, especially an attorney and accountant.
  • Create a foundation for succession.
  • If you are an associate, get your financial house in order.
  • Hire a financial planner if you aren’t an expert.
  • If you run a business, put policies and procedures in place to run the business.
  • Dwyer joined a VMG group that helped guide the evolution of her practice.
  • Dwyer had her practice appraised several times during her ownership.

The Other Side of Retirement

Dwyer said the “other side” of retirement is super. “I’m still very productive through my volunteer work. I’ve decided that education is my legacy, so all three of my major volunteer activites are related to education, as are my teaching junkets.”

Dwyer remains active as a mentor to several younger veterinarians. “And I really love being able to go to sleep and not set an alarm!” she added.

(Editor’s note: You can search Ann Dwyer and find many articles or other podcasts where she discusses equine ophthalmology.)

Final Advice on Planning to Retire

Dwyer offered these final thoughts on planning to retire from equine veterinary practice.

Plan for leaving the practice, whether you are an owner or an associate right from the beginning of your career.

Create a framework that will allow you to exit gracefully, adhering to legal and accounting best practices.

Structure your retirement to allow clients and patients you have cultivated for decades to continue to receive good care.

When you do leave, draw a line and stay out of your successor’s way. But still be available for advice when it is sought.

Follow good financial planning so you have “enough” when you decide to step off the carousel. Now that I have time, It’s been a delight to loosen those purse strings and to spend some of this money that I spent my career saving.

This is maybe the most important advice, said Dwyer: “Prioritize your health and well-being right now.” This is whether you are a year out, 20 years out or 40 years out “like I am,” said Dwyer. Cultivate wellness and a good social support system now. “The AAEP is giving you all kinds of toolkits to do that,” she added.

“I have found that little things I did when I was busy in practice—yoga, trips, making time for friends—are now big things.

Follow your heart. Explore the things that interest you. For me it has been learning to be a naturalist. I expercise two hours a day gently. “And after all these years I’m learning to cook!”

About Dr. Ann Dwyer

(From Dr. Dwyer): I took a slow path to vet school, so I was turning 30 when I graduated.  I had a “gap” of four years (after college) that involved one year of work as a lab technician in a tumor immunology lab, then three years employment on various east coast racetracks, working as a hot walker, groom and exercise rider.  It was during this time in my life when I decided to try to get into vet school.  

I applied to Cornell in 1979 and was accepted—I graduated in 1983. I have worked at Genesee Valley Equine my entire career….first 12 years as an associate, then I bought the practice in 1995 when the founder retired.

I was a solo owner until 2001, then I took on a business partner, Dr. Amy Leibeck. The practice was a limited liability company LLC when she bought in. She purchased successive shares over the next six years till we were 51%/49% partners. We ran the business together until the end of 2017, when we completed the legal process of me selling my 51% share to her. Our agreement stipulated a five-year payment for those shares (2018-2022).

From 2018 until the end of 2021, I continued to work for the practice as an associate, but every successive year I worked fewer days. By my final year, I was working about a 20% FTE schedule.

As of January 2022, I became fully retired. I was 68 at the time, I am 70 now.   

Since then I have been very busy with volunteer work and teaching. My days feel almost as full as they did when I was in practice! My volunteer work centers around three things:

1. Serving as the representative for equine practice on the AVMA Council on Education;

2. Serving as vice chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council at my alma mater, Cornell;

3. Serving on the Advisory board of the Flaum Eye Institute at the University of Rochester.

My teaching time is spent giving talks at vet schools and conferences on equine ophthalmology. I also just gave two business presentations at the AAEP Convention in San Diego.

My spare time is spent doing things I really enjoy. Traveling has always thrilled me, and this year I had some wonderful trips with my partner, Dr. Tim Allen. Highlights were a trip to Scotland and England in June, and a fall visit to New England.  

Health is a huge priority now that I am 70—and I try to eat well, prioritize exercise and sleep, and also spend plenty of time socializing with friends and family.  

Life is good!

This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit (collectively, “Synchrony”), make no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in this article are the sole opinions of the author and roundtable participants. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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