There are many changes happening in the veterinary profession – more on the horizon. It’s when the pace of change seems to reach break-neck speed that it’s the best time to think carefully about what you’re doing, and the direction you’re going in.
Like many vets, my career has been a microcosm of the way the veterinary profession has developed over the last few decades. I came to England from South Africa with several years’ experience of small animal practice under my belt, and joined Medivet a few years later.
At that time, in the early 1990s, Medivet was a small partnership of about four practices looking to expand.
Our strategy was informal back then, increasing by one branch a year for the first five years, but we’re now almost 100 branches strong.
During that time we’ve seen changes right across the industry. Salaries and working conditions are quite different now from when I started, and 24-hour care has become a much bigger part of what we do.
Medivet started its first 24-hour centre in 1991, and we now run six. These centres have helped us make significant improvements to standards of care and patient outcomes.
In 1997, a change in the legislation opened up ownership of veterinary practices to non-vets. This has had farreaching consequences across the profession and it’s this, I suspect, that will be the source of greatest change in the years to come.
These new rules haven’t affected the way that Medivet runs its business – in fact, I believe we’re the biggest group in the UK still wholly owned and managed by vets.
Veterinary medicine is now very capital, resource and expertise intensive, and because of this, the veterinary marketplace will inevitably move towards greater rationalisation.
As we have witnessed in other UK industries, customers will benefit from this process. Larger veterinary groups have the financial clout, the administrative resources and the economies of scale to meet customer expectations.
The trick is to keep your business model flexible and strong enough to cope with both customer demands and changes in the profession, while maintaining the highest standards in care.
This rationalisation isn’t only being driven from outside though – it’s stressful being a vet because there are so many demands on our time.
The vets in our partnership get their work-life balance back to where they want it because our Support Centre deals with the day-to-day regulatory and administrative headaches that can otherwise take so much time and energy.
I know some vets are concerned that joining a large group will mean giving up their independence, but it’s not as black and white as that. If you’re comfortable working within a broad framework, then we’ve found being part of a larger group can be a good option.
Shift in attitudes
As I see it, while you’re submerged under mountains of paperwork, worried about not putting a foot wrong, that’s not a definition of independence!
There’s also been a watershed shift over the past few years in attitudes towards large veterinary groups, which I think has been driven by RCVS Practice Standards inspections.
The feedback from Practice Standards inspectors has helped dispel myths and allay fears. Inspectors are independent arbiters, so if they say “this is a great clinic, which is well run, and has lots of resources”, you can be confident what they say is true.
All vet practices, whatever their size, have to be driven by improving standards of care and welfare. Without that, they won’t survive. There’s a lot of competition, and clients are more knowledgeable than ever before.
If you aren’t able to offer the level of service and standards of care your clients expect, then they’ll simply go down the road to a competitor who can.
Medivet’s integrated structure helps us underpin our high standards of veterinary care. We can share facilities and the expertise of several vets on each patient, and we have over 25 years’ experience of working in this way.
Culture of co-operation
This kind of approach may seem obvious, but it’s taken a lot of work to get right – look at the NHS, they’re still not fully integrated in spite of billions of pounds of investment.
It works for us because we have a strong culture of co-operation, and make every effort to ensure everyone who works for us feels part of our team.
I’m proud of what Medivet has achieved. It’s made its place in the veterinary marketplace, has responded well to changes in legislation and regulation, the changing focus on patient care and increased client demands, while constantly improving standards of care.
For me, it’s meant a huge amount of work, but the results speak for themselves. My partners and I operate a very successful veterinary group, with a growing number of partners.
We have the financial resources, management capabilities and technical expertise to make investments in care that I would never have dreamed possible at the start of my career.
Rather than being daunted by what the future holds for the veterinary world, I feel positive about it. Our profession faces challenges and stresses, but there are exciting times ahead for those who are willing and able to adapt.
- Medivet is on stand U52 at the LVS.