As a first-year veterinary student, I chose to join the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA) at UPenn. That decision has had the single biggest impact on my career to date.
When I started vet school, I planned to pursue an internship, surgical residency and ultimately become a practice owner. My career path didn’t end up going that direction, but the people I met and skills I learned through the VBMA have aided me at every twist and turn along the way.
Here are five reasons why business education is an important part of your veterinary journey:
1. Build your professional network.
You’ve probably heard that the vet profession is “a small world,” and “it’s not about what you know, it’s who you know.” I never realized just how true those sayings were until I began exploring opportunities for writing and speaking. Introductions from colleagues I knew well and reconnecting with old acquaintances smoothed my path into that world.
Ultimately, you may think you know where your career is headed, but interests, goals and lifestyles change over time. Having a diverse network of professionals in the veterinary industry can be advantageous as you explore different options over time. This network may include veterinarians, fellow veterinary students (who will become your future colleagues), veterinary technicians, practice managers, industry representatives and other professionals such as lawyers, financial planners and accountants who can help you succeed. Business education provides an introduction to these individuals and teaches you how to network effectively.
2. Prepare for the job hunt and learn to negotiate.
I was fortunate to find a clinic with exceptional mentorship to start my career. The job search skills, resume writing workshops, interview preparation and negotiation tips I learned through VBMA events were instrumental in helping me find and land this job. Though I was nervous, I felt well prepared for my job hunt and knew how to set myself apart from other candidates during my interview. Certainly, my medical training was a part of this, but I knew how to best present myself and my skillset effectively.
The job offer is just the beginning. Negotiating for what you want and what you are worth—including pay, benefits, schedule and mentorship—lays the foundation for job satisfaction. Negotiation can be intimidating. Having the opportunity to practice these skills and gain an understanding of what industry standards are can help you succeed when it comes time to have these important conversations with your future employer.
3. Enhance your communication skills.
I love talking to clients, colleagues, staff, students…and pretty much anyone else who will listen. But even if you love talking like I do, you have to develop communication skills. There is a difference between talking and communicating. Effective communication means having a conversation, knowing when to ask questions of the other person, when to stop and listen, and when to pause to allow everyone time to think.
No matter what area of veterinary medicine you end up in, you will be communicating with other people—even if it isn’t a client in an exam room or on a farm. While communication training has increased in the core curriculum of many veterinary schools, you can never have too much. Being exposed to different communication styles and strategies for managing different situations (e.g., delivering a poor prognosis or discussing finances and making medical recommendations) is invaluable to your success as a new veterinarian.
4. Get comfortable with leadership.
You know what comes along with your veterinary degree? A presumption of leadership. No matter where you work, you will be looked to as an expert and a leader by your staff and clients. You don’t have to work in a clinic for years or be a practice owner to be seen as a leader. I didn’t realize as a new grad how true this was until a trusted technician pointed out to me that the attitudes and decisions of all the doctors in the clinic impacted the staff’s morale and confidence on a daily basis.
Some people seem to be natural-born leaders, but everyone has leadership potential. Business education includes leadership training and helps you to understand the importance of skills like goal-setting, delegation and how to give effective feedback.
5. Become a stronger associate by understanding business operations.
It can be difficult to accept the financial limitations of clients—especially when it restricts the amount of care you can offer a patient—but veterinary clinics are a business, and it is essential to understand this. By no means does this make our profession “all about the money,” as we are sometimes accused. Having an associate who understands these facts and who has a basic understanding of business operations (e.g., how prices are set, the impact of discounts and missed charges, and basic inventory management) is an asset to the practice owner and management team.
Additionally, by understanding business operations, you can be more effective when suggesting changes to protocols, the addition of new services, or requesting new medications or equipment. A new grad colleague of mine recently shared how they convinced their clinic to invest in an ultrasound unit because they presented a plan for how to charge clients for the service and a timeline for turning this piece of equipment into a profitable part of the practice.
The current market for veterinary associates is wide open. But, it hasn’t always been this way and presumably won’t stay this way forever. Taking steps as a student to make yourself an exceptional candidate can only benefit you. Pursue education in business, communication and other non-clinical skills during your veterinary education. And since many schools do not include much of this training in their core curriculum, externships and extracurriculars, such as the VBMA, are a must. +
For more information on the VBMA, visit www.vbma.biz