A corporate veterinary clinic is a practice that is owned and operated by a company. This is a different business model than traditional private practice, where a clinic is owned and operated by an individual veterinarian or a small group of veterinarians. The number of corporate practices has increased steadily in recent years, and this type of practice is becoming fairly commonplace in the veterinary industry.
In the United States, the most prominent corporate veterinary clinics are Banfield and Veterinary Clinics of America (VCA). Banfield, a pioneering entity in the corporate veterinary field, was founded in 1955. Banfield now boasts a roster of approximately 800 clinics, mainly located in PetSmart stores, and the company employs over 2,000 veterinarians. Veterinary Clinics of America (VCA), another leading player in the industry, has over 600 clinics and more than 1,800 vets working in their corporate locations. There are also a number of regional corporate entities and smaller national chains that compete with the big two.
Far from being an exclusively American phenomenon, corporate veterinary clinics are also popping up with increasing frequency in international markets. In the United Kingdom, for example, corporate practices began to appear in 1999 after a regulation that restricted non-veterinary ownership of clinics was relaxed.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of corporate veterinary work vs. traditional private practice:
Pros of Corporate Veterinary Work
- Business management is completely handled by the corporate office: Veterinarians in corporate practice do not have to divert their attention from patient treatment to deal with staffing issues, hiring new technicians, running payroll, and other time-consuming business details. This allows them to focus their time exclusively on providing patient care, and it eliminates a major source of stress.
- Transferability: Corporate clinics may have a large number of clinics across a wide geographic area. This can make it easy to transfer to a different region if a vet so desires. It also allows them to step into a familiar clinical environment that is very similar to the one to which they are accustomed.
- Regular work schedules: Corporate veterinarians tend to work fairly standardized schedules, with less overtime than what is typical for a vet in private practice (especially when compared with the long hours that are often required of a practice owner). Corporate clinics often keep relief veterinarians on standby to fill in when they have an absentee vet, or they are able to pull a vet from another local corporate clinic to provide assistance.
- Discounted rates on veterinary products: Corporate veterinary clinics have more buying power from being able to make bulk purchase orders on behalf of multiple practices. They may be eligible for a variety of product discounts, and some of these savings may be passed along to customers. Better rates on products at corporate clinics can draw some clients away from traditional private practice.
- Good spot for new graduates: New vet school graduates are actively recruited by corporate chains, and corporate clinics can be a great place for them to gain experience while considering their options.
- Exit strategy for practice owners: Established veterinarians can sell their practices to corporate entities as an exit strategy from the business. The corporate clinic will often keep the staff members and allow the practice owner to continue working as an employee as well if they so desire. The former practice owner may also benefit in the long term by retaining ownership of the physical location and leasing the real estate to the corporation.
- You can’t buy into the practice as an owner: Veterinarians working for corporate clinics do not have the option to buy into ownership as in private practice. A corporate vet seeking an ownership stake would have to leave the clinic and start (or buy) their own private practice.
- Limited decision-making ability: Corporate vets must follow a variety of procedures and “best practices” relating to pricing and treatment options. They have less flexibility than a private practice vet would have on such matters.
- Lengthy approval process: Corporate clinics may require a significant amount of paperwork and an extensive approval process to purchase equipment or make changes to clinic procedures.
- Potential overemphasis on financial success: A common criticism of corporate medicine is that the parent companies focus too much on the bottom line. While making a profit is certainly a goal of any clinic (whether corporate or private practice), corporate vets may feel pressure to up-sell clients to increase profit margins.