University of Florida instilling better business sense in veterinary students

The University of Florida (UF) College of Veterinary Medicine is doing its best to ensure that students' business savvy is up to par with their medical skills when they graduate.

The college has developed an externship program based on a University of Georgia initiative, where veterinary students spend time in animal hospitals and learn best practices in practice management.

Students should have a solid understanding of what it takes to run a successful practice when they complete the externship program, said Dana Zimmel, chief of staff of the UF Veterinary Hospitals and adviser to the Veterinary Business Management Association student club.

"This training will give students an advantage when searching for their first position, because they have an understanding of the challenges that practice owners face when operating a hospital," she said. "Students will graduate with confidence and knowledge that within a few years they can be successful practice owners."

According to the University of Florida, participating students are paired with local practitioners to expose them to the daily challenges and opportunities involved with owning a practice. Students meet with practice owners to discuss aspects of their businesses that the owners would like students to evaluate, including financial/revenue analysis, fee review, and observations of staff-client interaction, according to UF.

The students' observations of their host hospitals' business practices not only taught them about practice management, but revealed opportunities for improvement to practice owners such as Doug Lammers, owner of Companion Animal Clinic of Ocala, who hosted a group of UF veterinary students in the summer.

"Sometimes as a practitioner, you tend to get exam room tunnel vision," Lammers said. "Things seem to be going along well, growth is good, and staff and clients are happy. What the students did was give us a set of unbiased eyes, under the tutelage of someone who had done a number of evaluations, and they pointed out a number of areas where our flow was less than optimal."

The students' reports convinced Lammers to consider making changes to the practice including going paperless, changing the fee structure, capturing fees more effectively, and implementing a phone tree to answer phone calls that weren't being answered after three rings.

UF's business program for veterinary students just started in summer 2013, but it has already convinced student Amanda Ditson that it offers tremendous value to aspiring practice owners. 

"This rotation should be considered essential to anyone planning on owning a veterinary clinic," Ditson said.