The Business of Veterinary Services: Navigating Challenges and Opportunities


Being a veterinary professional is undoubtedly a rewarding and fulfilling career, however, like any career path, it does come with its unique set of challenges and opportunities that one must navigate.

The biggest hurdle for many aspiring vets is the expense of education. Pursuing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at an accredited university is an intensive 4-year program and can be extremely costly with tuition and related costs exceeding $200,000-$300,000.

This means that most students will graduate with substantial student loan debt, upon entering a field that is not known for paying the highest salaries. However, there are scholarships and various support programs available to help mitigate some of this cost burden.

Exploring the Key Areas of Veterinary Practice Struggles

When starting to work as a veterinarian, you will have to face numerous struggles. Some key areas veterinary practices struggle with from a business operations standpoint include below.

Inventory Management

Managing inventory for medical supplies, medicines, equipment and more creates complex challenges. Tracking product usage, optimizing re-order cycles, controlling wastage of perishable items, and managing cash flow to afford orders all require diligent oversight. Hiring dedicated practice managers well versed in inventory best practices is advised. Investing in practice management software and automated re-ordering also eases this burden substantially.

Staffing & Human Resources

Recruiting veterinary technicians, assistants, front desk staff, kennel caretakers and more is an ongoing need. In the current tight job market, hiring reliable employees is more difficult than ever. Offering competitive pay and benefits is key to attracting and retaining good staff. Strong HR policies and management regimes make for smooth operations long-term. Allowing staff input into decision making, offering training programs, incentive pay structures and advancement opportunities helps secure staff loyalty and tenure.

Compliance Management

Veterinary practices must comply with a variety of legislation including controlled substances oversight, medical waste disposal laws like Mercury Reduction Acts, Radiation Safety Acts if providing imaging services, OSHA workplace safety regulations, ADA access laws, Fair Labor Standards for employee wages and hours, employee discrimination protections, and more.

Staying current and compliant with the myriad regulations is a constant requirement. Dedicated Managers must track new laws, update protocols, train staff on changes, and enforce compliance procedures. Failing to do so puts the practice at risk of fines or worse. Supporting trade organizations advise on these matters.

Facility Management

Managing the physical facilities and assets of a practice also poses challenges – especially for 24-hour emergency hospitals. Ongoing maintenance of medical and office equipment, supply management, janitorial upkeep, and general repairs of buildings and grounds requires constant oversight. Planning and budgets for upgrades like renovations or new equipment is periodic as well. In smaller practices these facility duties often fall to the business owners or practice manager, in larger hospitals dedicated operations teams handle this responsibility.

Customer Service & Patient Care

Balancing optimal care for animal patients and their owners with running an efficient and profitable practice is an endless effort to reconcile. Veterinarians strive to provide compassionate patient care, thoughtful client communications and education, while also needing to manage packed schedules, adhere to budgets, and operate resourcefully.

Refining workflows, implementing consistent protocols, and continuing education around “bedside manner” helps achieve this balance. Seeking regular client feedback surveys also provides insights to improve both medical and customer service.

Marketing & Public Relations

Spreading awareness of the practice’s services and building the brand reputation in the local community is imperative for success. This requires ongoing marketing and public relations efforts – through promotions, events, social media, web presence optimization and more. Budgeting for advertising and supporting community animal welfare events also brings mutually beneficial exposure.

Retaining expert communications staff or PR firms helps shape messaging and news stories that resonate with both prospective pet owners and referral networks like shelters, breeders, and pet stores.

Go Mobile

Offering mobile veterinary services is a rapidly growing trend that solves multiple challenges for clients, practitioners, and homebound pets. Custom outfitted mobile clinics provide greater convenience for clients, eliminates the stress to patients of transport, allows practitioners flexibility to see more patients, and expands revenue potential through house call services.

This does require sizable investment into a dedicated mobile vehicle, equipment and supplies. But this mobilization of services is gaining popularity across veterinary specializations like general wellness care, vaccinations, dental care, grooming, surgery, laboratory diagnostics and more.

Form Key Strategic Partnerships

Strategically partnering with other players across the broader pet services community creates win-win opportunities as referral pipelines are built. Partnering with trainers, shelters, pet food providers, pharmacies, laboratories, breeders and boarding facilities seeds reciprocal referrals. Offering niche services other local practices do not, also secures a client base.

Joining localized Veterinary Practice Purchasing Groups enhances leverage with suppliers to secure better pricing on everything from medicines to office products. Seeking trusted advisors like legal counsel, accountants, consultants and financial institutions builds a support network to guide difficult decisions. Surrounding one’s veterinary practice with these synergistic partnerships bolsters prospects extensively.

Final Words

Pursuing a career in veterinary medicine brings immense personal and professional fulfillment caring for the health and wellbeing of our beloved animal companions. However, to operate a thriving medical practice around that passion, requires cultivating extensive business acumen across various complex domains – staffing, compliance, inventory, facilities, customer service, marketing and more.

Learning to navigate these unforeseen challenges that depart starkly from the medical training curriculum is a substantial learning curve. But doing so successfully, with patience and trusted partnerships supporting the way, allows veterinary professionals to sustain a vibrant practice that makes lasting impacts on communities. The business of veterinary medicine is tricky to maneuver but immensely gratifying when the fruits of that labor manifest in healthy, happy animals under your care for years to come.