Case studies: 3 niche practice models

Case studies: 3 niche practice models

Undergraduate degree? Check. Veterinary medicine degree? Check. Full-time job at a private practice? Maybe.
Jun 01, 2009

Hopping on the fast track to a veterinary career doesn't have to include a stop at a private practice. If your route to career contentment doesn't involve putting in the typical 9-to-5 workday, staying in one place for long, or aspiring to ownership, you do have other options.

There's nothing wrong with working in traditional private practice. Almost 60,000 veterinarians practice in private U.S. veterinary hospitals. But maybe you want your career path to take you in another direction. Here's a glimpse into the life of veterinarians who found their calling in relief, mobile, and shelter work.

Dr. Lori Blackwell
Mobile veterinarian

Five days a week, Dr. Lori Blackwell loads up her 26-foot veterinary practice on wheels and hits the open road. With her long-time veterinary assistant on board, she travels the Chicago suburbs performing checkups, administering vaccinations, taking radiographs, and even completing surgeries for the pets of nearly 1,000 clients. She loves the autonomy and variety of this life—though not the high gas prices.

On the move: Dr. Lori Blackwell travels the northern Chicago suburbs in a mobile clinic visiting her 1,000 clients. (PHOTOS COURTESY OF DR. LORI BLACKWELL)
After four years at a mixed animal practice and five years at a small animal practice, Dr. Blackwell struck out on her own, thinking her mobile clinic would be a temporary gig. Now, 11 years later, she has found her calling: full-service veterinary care to people who can't make it to a brick-and-mortar practice, owners of large dogs who prefer not to haul in their pets, and a surprising number of busy young families who enjoy the convenience Blackwell Mobile Veterinary Services offers.

"A lot of people think mobile veterinarians simply give vaccinations and euthanize pets," Dr. Blackwell says. "I'd be bored if that's all I did. My practice offers the same services as a traditional small animal clinic. And I enjoy being my own boss and getting out of the office, especially when spring hits in the area."

On a typical day, Dr. Blackwell performs a couple of procedures in the morning while her clinic is parked at her house; some clients drop their pets off for these procedures. Then she takes to the road to see the rest of her patients. An occasional patient will be hospitalized overnight in her mobile unit or in her home. "It's all a bit unconventional, but it works for me," she says.

When she started out, Dr. Blackwell advertised in the phone book. About four years ago, she pulled her ads and stopped taking new clients. "I'm as busy as I want to be," she says.

Many of her clients maintain a relationship with a traditional private practice, which Dr. Blackwell encourages. And if emergencies strike and she isn't available, plenty of urgent-care clinics will take her cases until she's back in the swing of things. "I have a good relationship with traditional and emergency practices," Dr. Blackwell says. "I'm very careful not to step on other practitioners' toes, and they appreciate that."

Working in this capacity is a win-win situation for Dr. Blackwell, who enjoys her freedom and whose clients love the convenience. In fact, when gas prices peaked last year, her clients noticed and many rushed to help. "I had clients rounding up charges and practically giving me tips for the extra costs incurred," she says. "I love that some clients really enjoy and appreciate what I do."