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Veterinary professionals add management skills to practices

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Veterinarian R. Michael Thomas purchased his first Indianapolis clinic in 1982 and had two part-time receptionists. Today, he has seven Indianapolis and central Indiana locations with 130 employees, 19 of whom are veterinarians.

Michael Thomas

"I'm a firm believer in modern management, including mergers, consolidation and increased efficiencies," says Thomas, who is president of the American Animal Hospital Association. The problem is that his veterinary curriculum included very little management education. The situation is the same for veterinarians graduating today.

"Management is not something veterinarians are interested in," he says. "There's nothing on the state board tests about management. Their ears are closed. If they'd been interested in management, they'd have gone to management school."

Thomas became a student again in 1991 at Purdue University's Veterinary Management Institute, sponsored by the Krannert Executive Education Programs and American Animal Hospital Association. One of Thomas' teachers was David Schoorman, a Krannert School professor of management, who has taught human resource management in the institute since it began in 1989.

David Schoorman

"Proposing to bring small business management skills to the veterinary field was radical at that time, and there was real resistance among the first veterinarians who enrolled," Schoorman says. "There is more of a division of labor now than there was 10 years ago, so there is more acceptance now.

"The field has just gotten to the point that management is deemed important enough to dedicate a person to it."

Schoorman's tough-love message to veterinarians through the years: "You are a small business owner, an entrepreneur. If you can't make your business run, you can't practice your veterinary skills.

"Veterinarians are drawn to the profession because of their love of animals. One of the questions I ask that stops veterinarians in their tracks is: 'Who is your customer?' The answer is the pet owner and not the dog. If the client's not happy, she doesn't bring her dog in."

Then, Schoorman moves on to management topics – team building among employees, cross-training so employees are able to do each others' jobs, empowerment and designing a reward system for employees.

"Human resource issues are the most relevant for veterinary practices today," says Thomas. He practices what he preaches. Thomas and his full-time director of operations, Debbie A. Field, run the seven clinics.

"We need to train more managers so veterinarians can do what they do best – be veterinarians," Thomas says.

Which is exactly what the Purdue institute is doing.

"When we started, 80 percent to 90 percent of our participants were veterinarians," says Michael Sheahan, associate director of Krannert Executive Education Programs. "We are now attracting more full-time managers of veterinary practices. Actually, they make up the majority of our participants now."

Schoorman will teach his three-day institute class on human resource management beginning Oct. 11. A marketing management module will be Oct. 19-21. Two more three-day classes – financial management and strategic thinking – follow in February. The instructors are professors in the Krannert Graduate School of Management.

Following the VMI "modules" in October are: financial management, Feb. 15-17, and strategic thinking, Feb. 21-24.

Graduates receive continuing education units and certificates of veterinary practice administration.

One of the founders of the Veterinary Management Institute was Richard A. Goebel, former director of Purdue's Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Mimi Arighi, the current director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is one of approximately 700 graduates of the Veterinary Management Institute.

The cost of VMI is $1,249 per module for American Animal Hospital Association members and $1,624 for non-members. The fees include instruction, books and other course materials and meals. The fees do not include lodging and transportation, although accommodations are available at Purdue's on-campus Union Club Hotel.

For further information, contact Sheahan, Krannert Center, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907; (765) 494-7700; Participants can register online at

Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Sources: R. Michael Thomas, (317) 253-1327,

David Schoorman, (765) 494-4391,

Michael Sheahan, (765) 494-5831,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Publication-quality photographs of Dr. Mike Thomas and David F. Schoorman are available at or at The photos are called Thomas.M.jpeg and Schoorman.jpeg.

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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