Keys to a Sustainable Veterinary Practice in Challenging Times

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Veterinary practices must focus on three things to ensure sustainability now and in the future.

Veterinary medicine has once again proven to be a very resilient enterprise in the midst of some very challenging times. The COVID pandemic has presented tremendous challenges to everyone and has amplified how “essential” veterinary care is to millions of families and their pets. With that, veterinary practices are seeing unprecedented demand for services. This demand is driving strong revenue opportunities in many practices, though some have struggled, primarily due to staffing issues and forced closures or restrictions in some states.

The staffing issues are real. With some staff unable or unwilling to come to work, others retiring early due to the challenging environment, and with the forced changes in workflow, the impact on veterinary teams has been very significant. The stress, fatigue, and related impacts are real, and they are not sustainable for a long period of time. It is very important for practices to take steps to overcome this stress and fatigue on their teams to ensure a healthy environment for their teams and their continued ability to provide customer-centered service. Three keys to a sustainable veterinary practice include:


  1. Establish strong, positive leadership and an amazing practice culture where people want to come to work.
  2. Hire great people, and don’t stop hiring.
  3. Manage for profitability to ensure a healthy practice.

Steps that need to be taken to build and sustain a positive culture that will reduce stress and fatigue include the following:

  • Establish great, empathetic leadership that fosters a team environment focused on customer success at all times. Invest in leadership development and training.
  • Hire positive people, who are grateful for their opportunities and love to serve others.
  • Establish a true culture of caring. Take care of team members, provide empathetic support, flexibility where needed, and defined accountability.
  • Hire more great teammates. Continually identifying and hiring great people will help spread the load across more people, reduce overtime, and keep staff more rested and mentally healthy. It will also allow you to free up those on your team who are performing optimally. Unleash them on your competition.

Leadership is revealed in challenging times. Poor leaders become evident quickly when adversity develops. And likewise, strong, positive leaders are also revealed when times get tough. Veterinary practice leaders must make timely decisions to get negative team members off the team. If leaders let them stay, the entire team will suffer, and morale will decline as well. Good leaders will help to create a culture where people will want to come to work. Recruitment is easier, because team members are the best advocates, and they will promote the culture at all times and new team member candidates will want to come to work with them.

The third key to ensuring a sustainable veterinary practice in challenging times is to manage for profitability. Practices that aren’t profitable do not have a positive culture where people want to come to work. In fact, practices that aren’t profitable are usually stressed, under-staffed, under-paid, and full of unhappy people. Profitability is crucial because it ensures adequate financial resources to fund attractive facilities, strong leadership, exemplary team members, and a positive culture throughout.

Managing for profitability begins with implementing the 40/20 rule. The staff expenses should not exceed 40% of revenue, and direct costs (inventory, laboratory, radiology, mortuary, food, and bedding) should be 20% of revenue or less. In almost all instances, if a veterinary practice maintains this 40/20 rule, profitability will be maintained at approximately 20% of revenue.

In summary, in challenging times, to ensure a sustainable practice, there must be a focus on leadership and culture, continually hiring people, and managing for profitability.

About the author

Edward L. Blach, DVM, MS, MBA

Dr. Ed Blach works as a business and market specialist in veterinary medicine. He has a unique background that combines veterinary medicine, market research, business development, and management. Dr. Blach is also an inventor whose professional passion is innovation and improvement. He is co-founder of two current startups: Ask.Vet and IsMyPracticeHealthy.com.

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