THERE are many issues facing veterinary surgeons in practice today. Some of these are linked to clinical developments and understanding, others associated with changes taking place in the infrastructure within and without the veterinary role and it is likely that many veterinary surgeons feel that they need to simply work harder.
Many other difficult aspects of being in practice can easily be brought to mind. To obtain an overview and an insight into the health of veterinary practices, we talked to Peter Gripper about his experiences and perceptions.
Peter is well-known by many for his clinical work and assessments, within veterinary practice in Wincanton, Somerset, but nowadays he has a reputation for fairness and understanding when carrying out practice valuations and helping veterinary surgeons, practice managers, nurses and companies to assess and progress.
Anval Ltd, of which Peter is a director (following in the footsteps of his father, John Gripper) has many years of experience to draw on and there is an air of confidence about Peter that is reassuring.
Leaving the office, we walked to a high point overlooking the Somerset levels, with breathtaking distant views. The sun was shining and there was a pleasant fresh breeze to clear the mind. A watchful eye was kept on Otter, the 18-week-old puppy, and all was right with the world.
Sitting on the stone viewing point, Cadbury Castle is seen the background, the legendary Camelot where knights dispensed justice as part of the court of King Arthur.
A clear view of the countryside enabled a clear vision of veterinary practice and Peter declares that walking the dog allows for issues and problems to be thought through, away from the four walls of the office.
When a partner leaves a practice there are options for the remaining partners. There are also opportunities to pause and reflect whether a clone is required to fill the shoes or whether certain skills, abilities or personality traits would better serve the future of the practice. Are the partners going to agree? Probably not.
The starting point is likely to be the buying-out and buying-in arrangements. This is where the role of the outsider comes to the fore. Peter believes in the personal touch. Of course various practice facts and figures are gathered and additional information is sought so that an idea of practice economics can be considered. But it is the visit to the practice and meeting the people involved that is the key to understanding the best option for a particular situation.
Following on from partnership changes it is interesting that many practices and individuals ask for further support to develop and focus a practice. Call this business planning, if you wish, but when the various skins are peeled off the orange it comes down to people. What are the people prepared to do?
What do the people wish to do and does everyone know what the aims of the practice are? This may sound a little like something you see in a poster but not if you bring it down to the people, to you.
Plenty of options
What do you want to do? Retire early? Work fewer hours for the same return? Develop a clinical speciality? Avoid partnership meetings? Become the most successful practice in the area? The possible options go on and on and it is likely that most folk do not have a clear plan.
One of the observations from Peter is that “those who plan get more results than those who don’t”. It would appear that if you plan to achieve an aim, and that is achieved, there is considerable satisfaction to be gained. Without a plan, how is satisfaction obtained?
The trick seems to be for partners and practice members to concentrate on areas that can produce outcomes. For example, there may be little enthusiasm from partners to develop a clinic for a topic of low clinical challenge. Emptying anal glands for four hours on a Tuesday might be debated!
If the idea for an anal gland clinic has appeal so that clients turn up, the opportunity is open to offer obesity management, teeth, vaccination, etc., to expand the support. The practice aim is clear and measurable and the tool to achieve it becomes secondary.
The thought process now moves on to the role of a veterinary practice: specifically, the role of your veterinary practice. Fundamentally, a veterinary practice is providing a service. It is part of the service industry and the key here is to provide a quality service.
There is no doubt that attention to the small details that make up good service are well worth identifying, scrutinising and improving. What is the greatest compliment that a client can make about your practice? What would you wish the dog or cow owner to say to his or her neighbour?
Peter makes the point that “the recession is a challenge to the profession”. Another key point is that there is not one solution for everybody. This seems important because each veterinary practice has its own unique history and structure. These aspects strongly influence the day-to-day operation – or they can do.
So, when the business is reviewed, developments and changes are discussed and a plan developed, are those actions acted upon? It is not surprising that some veterinary surgeons ask for on-going support with a regular assessment.
This is extremely satisfying to the Anval members because they are able to build strong relationships and help individuals to fulfil their own needs while helping the business of the practice to be considered by the members to be working well.
Too good at sharing ideas…
One point made that may appear obvious when said, but is perhaps not openly discussed, is that veterinary surgeons are “too good at sharing their ideas”. Practice members will often explain to other practices the commercial successes they have achieved and this encourages a uniform approach rather than a uniqueness of service.
In areas where client loyalty is a difficulty, there needs, perhaps, to be some perceived distinction between practices. Maybe it is too fanciful to think that every client is greeted with a smile and recognition of the name of their pet!
From time to time Anval sets up study days or workshops to develop topics of particular interest and current relevance. The various options now available for the ownership and financial structure of practices have brought enquiries about incorporation.
The traditional partnership arrangements continue to work well but there may be circumstances where a corporate structure would be beneficial. (If incorporation is an option you wish to think about the contact number is 01963 370168.)
The other major area is career decision making for people under 30 years old. Should an individual become a partner, an owner, set up a practice or work as a locum? Many options are available and it is interesting that enquiries are made by individuals about joining corporate franchises, with their many variations.
It is all part of the professional approach increasingly being adopted by younger veterinary surgeons and also practice managers and nurses.
Standing full square to the wind and facing towards Camelot, the question is asked, “What is the future for veterinary practice?” Peter has no hesitation in saying that the future is good.
Earning opportunities are sound. People can have a satisfying working life and develop a 20-year pension programme. Walking towards home the final observation is: “The future of veterinary practice is whatever you want it to be.”