Not too long in the tooth: Practice ownership & age

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What’s the best age age to start the next phase of your career in veterinary medicine, becoming a practice owner? Maybe it’s the age you are now.

When we think of effective entrepreneurs we tend to think of youth: casually dressed and nerdy technology types – like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg – and to see successful entrepreneurship as a task for 20-somethings. By the time you slide into your mid-thirties (or, heaven help you, even later) it can seem like the opportunity to start or own a business has passed you by. After all, as Zuckerberg once told us, “Young people are just smarter.”

But are they really?

It turns out that experience actually does matter. In a study published this spring looking at US Census data on startup success, it turns out that 42 is the median age of founders of new firms, and that data set actually skews older for high growth (think technology) companies:

It makes sense when you think about it. It helps to know about the industry you’ll be competing in, not from a theoretical perspective but from true experience. It helps to have developed life skills, a network of people to hire and those you can reach out to for advice. It also helps to have built the stronger financial resources that middle-age can bring, which helps new owners to weather the storms that a new business may have to face. Remember, when the first iPhone came out Steve Jobs was 52 years old.

How does this relate to veterinary medicine?

Let’s be frank: practice owners make more money and create more wealth in the course of their careers than clinicians who work as associates. Our company, Veterinary Practice Partners, is dedicated to the principal that veterinary ownership belongs in the hands of veterinarians. When veterinarians participate in practice ownership everyone wins: the experience is better for everyone involved the practice from employees, to clients, to patients. We frequently recruit mid-career associates into an ownership stake in their practice and often initially face resistance when the associate is in their late 40s or early 50s, and think that their window of opportunity has closed long ago.

It’s more accessible than you know. Unless you’re already contemplating retirement, the door is still open. After all, you’ve acquired all the requisite medical skills, understand client needs from long experience and, as an associate doctor, developed the necessary leadership skills to lead a team of your own. You’re ready to make the leap into ownership ; you may just need a little help on the business side (at VPP practices we make the jump a safe one).

As you can see, it’s almost never too late to jump start this phase of your career. Even if servicing the debt associated with ownership doesn’t lead to increased cash flow right away – it should – you’ll still be building equity and a larger nest egg to fund a happier and more comfortable retirement.

You’re younger than you think.

About The Author

Chief Veterinary Officer

As a long-time practice owner of multiple veterinary practices and having served as a past President of the AVMA, Doug has a deep understanding of the professional issues facing practice owners in the industry today. Suffice it to say, Doug has “seen it all” in his career and can provide a unique perspective to practice owners who are looking to improve their quality of life and the performance of their practices.


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