Why Rural Veterinarians Can't Sell Their Practices

How do we make a veterinary practice model that works for everybody?
Published: June 29, 2018

Stith Keiser, BA, chief executive officer and director of client experience for Blue Heron Consulting, talks about why rural veterinarians are having such a hard time selling their practices, and what Colorado State University (CSU) is doing to help.

"My first memories of veterinary medicine were sitting — hopefully in a car seat when I was that age but who knows back then — in a old truck along, you know, a beat-up, bumpy road with my dad - he was a mixed-animal practitioner initially, he's retired now but started out doing a mixed-animal practice. Growing up in that more rural practice, mixed-animal environment, grew up with cattle, the first practice I had the opportunity to be a part of was a one-doctor, rural, mixed-animal practice in Nebraska. The reason this has been such a fun project working with CSU on the veterinary services grant is that's kind of where I come from, it goes back to my roots of rural America. And we all I think know as a profession that there are a lot of professionals that are still out there in rural America. And one of the big things we're seeing is that a lot of that age group and demographic they are running one-doctor hospitals, and, in some cases, they've been able to do a pretty good job of producing at a level that supports their livelihood. But they go to sell, and they are the stereotype of the no-low practice — the practice with no-to-low value. 

So, you've got these — in that generation was typically guys — you've got these older gentlemen who have put their blood sweat and tears into a hospital for 30 years thinking this is
going to be their retirement plan, where the retirement plan is to go buy a house on the beach or send kids to college or plan through whatever it may be, they go to sell and there's nothing to sell. What's cool about what we're going to do with CSU and working with a diverse team there of clinicians, people from the administration, we have a lot of really sharp veteran students we're working with at CSU, is saying, "OK, practice models have to change." Our clients are changing — they have more options than ever before. You talk about price elasticity, so, we know client demands are changing. We know there's certain, especially rural areas, where there is a need; i.e. we have the caseload where animals need veterinary care but there's a huge difference between the demand as we know. And so how do we go to these rural areas where maybe they are either currently underserved or there's somebody there barely squeaking by a living, how do we make a model that works for everybody.

And the government has done a great job through the loan repayment of trying to support veterinarians that go to rural areas, but, at least based on my just anecdotal experience, if there's not a veterinarian there right now, there is probably a reason why. So sure, getting some of your loans paid back helps, but it doesn't mean you have a 30-year successful career if you can't find a business model that will help educate or help your clients see the value of bringing the animals where the need is there, bringing them in so you can provide veterinary services in such a way that's the best interest of the animal as well, of course, for the veterinarian."

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