September 29, 2000
Veterinary professionals go back to school - business school
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Veterinarians typically spend five years studying biology, animal medicine and surgery and then buy into a small business. This often plunges the new practitioners into unfamiliar and difficult management, marketing and financial situations.
The competitive landscape of veterinary medicine has become much more rugged in the last few years as consolidation, chains and burgeoning corporatization have come on to the scene. Suddenly, the veterinarian needs the skills of an MBA to compete successfully.
For 11 years, Purdue University's Krannert Executive Education Program has collaborated with the American Animal Hospital Association to provide veterinary professionals with business and management skills. The Veterinary Management Institute will hold a three-day class on human resource management beginning Nov. 2. A marketing management module will be held Nov. 10 to 12.Three more three-day classes in finance, marketing, and strategic thinking follow every three to five months. The instructors are professors in the Krannert Graduate School of Management.
"We offer graduate-level management education specifically tailored to the needs of veterinary professionals," says Michael Sheahan, associate director of Krannert Executive Education Programs. "When we started, 80 percent to 90 percent of our participants were veterinarians. We are now attracting more full-time managers of veterinary practices. Actually, they make up the majority of our participants now."
That reflects changes in the field which, in turn, reflect changes in both technology and the veterinary service marketplace global economy, according to G. Logan Jordan, the Krannert School assistant dean who teaches the capstone strategic thinking class in VMI.
"The veterinary field is a fragmented industry with a large number of small, individually owned and operated practices," Jordan says. "Such an industry today attracts consolidation from firms such as Veterinary Centers of America, franchises such as VetSmart, and specialty practices such as those that focus only on cats, dogs or exotic pets.
"The presence of these new types of competitors, along with the increasing pace of change, makes the veterinary field a very dynamic and challenging one. Competition is changing because of technological advances and diffusions and the increasing importance of information and communication."
Also changing, according to Jordan, are the customers, who are generally less price sensitive than in the past and will pay for expensive treatments to keep Fido and Fluffy healthy.
"There has been a great deal of research highlighting the strength of the bond between individuals and their pets," Jordan says. "The willingness to invest more in a pet's care is just one aspect of that bond. Some firms now even include pet health care as one of the choices in their employee benefits plans.
"We aim to provide veterinary professionals with the tools to build a plan for creating sustained competitive advantage and above-average financial returns," Jordan says. "Upon completion of the class, the participants have pulled together a plan to address their key strategic issues along with a comprehensive business plan and a timeline for implementation.
"We stress to the class' participants that the critical issue in strategic management practice is not simply in formulating plans but following through with an implementation," Jordan says.
Lafayette veterinarian John C. Pickett of Lafayette Veterinary Hospital completed the VMI program in 1999. He says his only regret is that he didn't do it sooner.
"There was a time in veterinary medicine when you could hang out your shingle and make a living," he says. "But today it is so much more important to focus on the business."
Pickett is president of a group of about 30 of his colleagues that is embarking on a new business, an emergency veterinary clinic to be located in Eastway Plaza on U.S. 52 in Lafayette.
"Dogs and cats aren't just dogs and cats anymore," Pickett says. "They're family members, and when a family member is acutely ill, you seek help right away.
"Because of VMI, I was more confident in laying out the business plan for the emergency clinic. The demographics are right with the area's population growth and prosperity. The facility will open at 6 p.m. daily when most veterinary offices close, as well as on weekends and holidays, and offer triage-stabilization services for pets undergoing major trauma."
Following the VMI "modules" in November are: financial management, Feb. 23-25, 2001; marketing management, Oct. 19-21, 2001; and strategic thinking, Feb. 21-24, 2002. Graduates receive certificates of veterinary practice.
The cost of VMI is $1,147 per module for AAHA members and $1,487 for non-members. The fees include instruction, books and other course materials, meals and clinical updates by Purdue's Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The fees do not include lodging and transportation, although accommodations are generally available at Purdue's on-campus Union Club Hotel.
The module cost increases to $1,249 for AAHA members and $1,624 for non-members after Jan. 1, 2001.
For further information, contact Michael Sheahan, Krannert Center, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907; (765) 494-7700; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: Michael Sheahan, (765) 494-5831, email@example.com
G. Logan Jordan, (765) 494-4370, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077, email@example.com
John C. Pickett, (765) 447-0521