Dear Practice Owner,
My name is Wendy Hatch, and I own Stroud Veterinary Hospital, in Innisfil ON. I have been contacted by the Veterinary Practice Owners Association (VPOA) and asked if I would be willing to try to improve the collegiality between veterinarians and practices in Ontario.
Over the course of my 25(ish!) year career, I have worked in more than 18 hospitals in the province. For about 8 years, I worked in the Newmarket area, where the North York Vet Association existed. At the time, the association worked together annually to put on one large rabies clinic out of a town building, and the proceeds were generally used to fund one or two social gatherings a year where all the vets involved just got together and socialized. For a new vet coming into the area, this group helped me to quickly put a face to many of the surrounding veterinarians, and to get a sense of who these colleagues actually were as people. It helped me develop a network of people that could assist me if my boss wasn’t readily available, just by picking up the phone. Most of the practices involved with the association co-operated readily to share resources or to help out if a vet got sick/had problems. Because we knew each other as people, it was easier to call and ask about cases when a client wanted a second opinion – and it was easier to take those calls when you knew the other person was unlikely to believe the client’s opinion of you being an incompetent fool. I really enjoyed the sense of community that existed there, and have found it lacking in most of the other places I have been.
I have now been in business for 12 years on my own, and I understand that practices feel protective of their business and their clients. I have an acute awareness that business ownership is becoming increasingly challenging from many different angles. But I am discouraged and saddened to see that instead of veterinarians and owners discussing these issues amongst themselves (the people most likely to be able to both commiserate with and encourage each other) there is often a strong feeling of suspicion and distrust between practices within a local area. In many cases, local vets do not even know the names of the doctors working at neighbouring clinics.
One suggestion that I put forth to the VPOA is a simple one, and is the reason for this mail. I would like to encourage EVERY owner to reach out two or three times a year, and invite two (or more) of the other local practicing vets out for lunch. Not for any specific business reason, but just to share a meal, perhaps talk about local affairs, but mostly just to learn who the PEOPLE are that practice around you. (Not fair to pick the same two every time!) Worst case scenario, you decide you don’t personally like someone much. There is no law saying the world is a happy place with unicorns and rainbows all round. But maybe, just maybe, you WILL find that you have common ground, shared hobbies, similar struggles with either business or family. Maybe you will start to look forward to an opportunity to talk to a couple of people that have different experiences and viewpoints, but share similar frustrations and can either empathize or offer advice for coping. Maybe we can take a lunch once in a while, and unload some of the baggage we take home to the long suffering family that doesn’t quite understand the issues that we face as vets and business people. Occasionally, we might even find that we truly LIKE the people practising around us, so the next time professional communication is needed it will be less defensive, because you know the PERSON to whom you are talking.
In the spirit of “pay it forward”, if I can encourage enough people to take that one small step, maybe the journey eventually becomes a community with enough trust to stand together and more actively direct the shape of our lives together, rather than sitting each at our own desk, and wondering what is happening to our businesses and our future. It seems to me that the VPOA could help all of us, and I think that is more likely to happen if we have a stronger network between us. On behalf of the VPOA I thank you for your time, and hope you consider my request.
Wendy S. Hatch, DVM
Stroud Veterinary Hospital