Not just practice ownership: University of Florida program preps grads for real life in vet med

The University of Florida Veterinary Business Management Certificate includes personal financial literacy and how to be a better associate.

By Emily Singler

The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Business Management Certificate Program recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Originally the brainchild of current college dean and professor Dana Zimmel, DVM, DACVIM, the program was created to better prepare veterinary students to be future practice owners.

Through the program, UF veterinary students can complete their certificate simultaneously with their veterinary degree, and graduate with a better understanding of what’s involved in practice ownership—including being armed with the tools to make sound financial decisions for their practice and themselves.

How the UF program has evolved

Martha Mallicote, DVM, MBA, DACVIM, clinical associate professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine Large Animal Hospital, has been involved in the program from its early stages and now serves as program director.

In the 10 years since the program began, she has seen interest grow significantly among students and in the veterinary community as a whole. The first year the certificate was offered, for example, 15 students out of a class of 100 chose to enroll in the program. Now, nearly a third of the class chooses to participate.

When asked if she has seen more reluctance to become a practice owner among students, Mallicote stated that she hasn’t. If anything, she’s seen the interest in practice ownership increase.

She estimates that in an average veterinary school class, about 25% of students want to specialize, and another 30% want to own their own practice. While Mallicote acknowledges that current practice owners often complain that they can’t find anyone to whom they can sell their practices, she says, “They may not want to buy your practice, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be practice owners.”

Deep dives into financials and practice culture assessment

Since one of the primary focuses of the program is future practice ownership, courses include business and professional development, entrepreneurship, and business management.

Students also complete private practice clerkships— what the vet school calls their clinical rotations— where the focus is entirely on the business management of the practice as opposed to the treatment of patients.

Mallicote even tells students they are “not allowed to perform physical exams” during this experience. Instead, they take a deep dive into the financials of the practice.

Both the students and the practice owners benefit from the analysis and the recommendations made to improve the health of the business.

Students also make powerful observations about the culture of a practice and its effects on the job satisfaction and turnover rates of hospital personnel. Mallicote stresses that learning some of the “soft” skills that affect retention and attrition are just as important as learning about staff pay and benefits.

Focus on purchasing existing practices

Another important part of the program focuses on purchasing an existing practice. Mallicote shares that this is one of the areas where future veterinarians express a lot of concern.

“The corporate practice purchasing has gotten hotter and hotter, and the numbers have gotten bigger and bigger,” she explains.

While no part of the program is anti-corporatization, Mallicote does want her students to know that private practice ownership can be a viable and lucrative alternative to working for a corporation.

This includes teaching students how to structure the purchase of a practice in a way that is more competitive with the offers from corporate consolidators.

Benefits beyond practice ownership

The reasons for participating are not always limited to a desire to become a practice owner. While preparing students for future practice ownership is still the primary goal, Mallicote explains that the certificate program teaches skills that apply in many other circumstances.

For example, learning about the business of owning a practice can help those who don’t aspire to practice ownership become “better associates” who know why they are paid the way they are, and how to earn their goal salary, she says.

This makes them more marketable and helps them evaluate their offers of employment with more confidence.

The program also includes training in personal finance, such as budgeting, managing student debt, saving for retirement, and other “adulting” tasks, says Mallicote. The principles of entrepreneurship taught in the program can be applied to business ventures apart from practice ownership, too.

The future of the veterinary business training

The UF Veterinary Business Management Certificate is only open to students enrolled in the veterinary college. Mallicote notes that the college has received many requests for this type of training to be available to other veterinary professionals, and she hopes to be able to offer some of the same educational content in the form of continuing education to the veterinary community at large in the future.

Similar programs are offered at other veterinary schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, and UC Davis.

There are options outside of vet school, too. Veterinarians and practice managers looking to level up their business management training can also sign up for AAHA’s Veterinary Management Institute (VMI), a five-month long executive-level leadership program that will “challenge, inspire, and equip” participants to succeed.

When asked what she wants the veterinary community to know about business management education, Mallicote says, it’s a myth that future veterinarians don’t want to be practice owners.

“It doesn’t match the reality of the veterinary students I work with,” she said.

Further reading

UF’s veterinary business management program thrives in first 10 years

Emily Singler, VMD, is AAHA’s veterinary content specialist.

Cover photo credit: © Quarta_ E+ via Getty Images Plus

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.



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