Practice management curriculum gives veterinarians a head start

Group photo of Left to right: Kevin Berry, Clint Bradbeer, Alex Bronson, Lindsay Bailey, Nadine Encarnación, Dr. Rick DeBowes, Lily Elder, Katie Hoch, Cody Yeik.
Left to right: Kevin Berry, Clint Bradbeer, Alex Bronson, Lindsay Bailey, Nadine Encarnación, Dr. Rick DeBowes, Lily Elder, Katie Hoch, Cody Yeik.

Students leave veterinary school ready to care for and treat patients for all varieties of conditions, but many graduate with little to no training in the business aspects of the profession, despite its importance to career and personal success.

Washington State University has one of the few veterinary programs in the nation with a deep practice management curriculum focused on the financial basics of business and veterinary medicine designed to help graduates seamlessly transition into their new careers and succeed in the profession.

“Business is always a feature of what you do as a veterinarian,” said Dr. Rick DeBowes, who is the director of the Veterinary Professional Life Skills Development Program in the College of Veterinary Medicine at WSU. “I don’t care if you’re hired by a local shelter or you are doing spay charity cases, you have to understand revenue and costs or you’re out of business.” 

DeBowes was instrumental in establishing the college’s practice management curriculum. In 2004, he helped to launch the program’s Veterinary Practice Management class in which students are introduced to business financial basics, such as profit and loss reports, cash flow and inventory management, in addition to small business law and human resource fundamentals.

In 2015, the Practice Management Rotation for fourth-year veterinary students was added. During the unique two-week-long elective rotation, students spend several days observing and evaluating a pair of veterinary businesses. Students interview hospital owners and their staff, review the clinics’ business practices and provide specific business recommendations to improve efficiency, profits, culture and care.

“I would pay thousands of dollars right now out of my pocket to go back and take his rotation again. I have told people to go to WSU just for that reason,” said alum Chris Dallas (’21 DVM), who completed both the course and rotation and is now practicing in Georgia. “You’ll learn what most people take 30 years to figure out, and that is a huge head start for you.” 

In addition to seeing firsthand how successful practices operate – and where those practices can still improve – students get exposure to the financial aspects of the business and insight into how to better negotiate salaries based on the revenue they are helping to generate.

“Understanding those numbers is so important when you want to be able to leverage yourself,” Dr. Jackie Treat (’20 DVM) said. “When I had my one-year review I was able to negotiate for a raise because I understood my numbers and the revenue I was generating.”

Treat, who is currently practicing in Edmonds, Washington, believes the practice management curriculum should be offered at all veterinary schools to help better prepare students.

“The emphasis we’re putting on education for veterinary students is missing the mark if we’re not including this in their education,” she said. “An emphasis on a program like this would be moving in the correct direction to better support us coming out of school.”

The rotation is also beneficial to practice owners. 

“This is amazing for owners because they’ve never had anybody come in and look over their shoulder. What would it cost you to have eight people with that amount of education come in and watch your business for a week? That’s a $60,000 to $90,000 consultation bill,” DeBowes said. 

During the summer of 2021, Dr. Vaughn Fish (‘17 DVM) worked with DeBowes and Dr. Jeff Sanford at the University of Georgia to fly students from both programs to evaluate his practice near Austin, Texas. While Fish didn’t take the rotation during his time at WSU, he felt his practice would benefit from an outside perspective, while also providing students with the experience of seeing how a large and thriving practice operates. 

“We’ve almost completely changed our culture and business model based on their recommendations,” he said, adding the changes have improved both client and staff satisfaction. 

He said all students would benefit from the rotation.

“This rotation opens their eyes to what really happens behind the scenes in a veterinary practice, and it is a good opportunity for networking with other veterinarians,” Fish said. 

The rotation is supported largely by donations to WSU’s Veterinary Business, Management and Financial Literacy Fund. The funds are used to bring in expert speakers for the didactic practice management elective offered to third-year students and to provide funding to offset rooming, food and travel expenses for fourth-year students traveling during the practice management rotation.

Next Story

Recent News

Landscaping for drought and hot weather

WSU Extension gives advice on growing a beautiful and drought-tolerant landscape, including lists of plants, tips for reducing water usage, and more.