Practice ownership is not a cage

Practice ownership is not a cage

You can make time for life and family and hobbies and healthy priorities and healthy boundaries as a practice owner. Let your team help.
source-image
Apr 12, 2016

Associates are afraid of the "cage" of business loans and management responsibilities that keep them from family and a personal life. Practice owner Dr. Michael Watts managed those fears himself. (Photo Getty Images)Editor’s note: This is an exclusive excerpt from Benchmarks 2015: A Study of Well-Managed Practices, with data on the fee schedule, the revenue metrics and the variable and fixed expenses as well as retirement and partnership strategic planning for high-functioning veterinary hospitals. Get your copy here.

When I was asked for Benchmarks 2015: A Study of Well-Managed Practices to answer the question, “How do I own a practice without giving up my life?” it threw me for a loop. And I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s because it gets to the heart of why I’m a practice owner. It’s less about what I do and more about who I am.

Ownership lets me set my own schedule

While there were many factors that went into my decision to own, the major impetus was my inability to coach my daughter’s softball team after being asked again and again. I love baseball, I love spending time with my daughter, and I would have loved to coach her team. Despite all those years of school, I found myself working somewhere that wouldn’t allow me to be available three afternoons a week at 5 p.m. I decided my career was supposed to support my life—not be my life. I could only fully realize that vision as an owner.

So, I guess the first step was setting expectations of what I wanted in my personal life and then structuring my practice schedule to allow it. My kids get dropped off at school at 8 a.m., so I started my appointments at 8:30 a.m. to allow me to drive them to school every day. I struggle with the experts’ advice to schedule appointments six months in advance because I write new doctor schedules every few months when the new Little League or swim team schedule is announced.

I work as much as I can … whenever I don’t have family, community or personal activities to pursue.

In general, I work as much as I can … whenever I don’t have family, community or personal activities to pursue. In addition to leaving time for my kids, I’ve built my work schedule around symphony subscriptions, season tickets to sports teams, vacation opportunities, charitable activities, holidays and even seasonal water levels on the river for canoeing. There’s plenty of time to work in between.

If you’re a good doctor and you treat people well, enough folks will rearrange their schedules to see you when you’re available. However, it doesn’t work the other way around. Your kids won’t wait until your work schedule is clear before they grow up. A hike with your spouse through the colorful autumn mountains can’t be put off until January when business slows.

Ownership finds me delegating and mentoring—a lot

I spend time mentoring my associates and staff in my philosophy of practice. My ability to get away depends on my practice being able to care for my patients when I’m gone. If I have a bunch of problems to fix when I return, I really haven’t had time off—I’ve just delayed and compounded my workload. I love when a client prefers someone I’ve recruited, hired and mentored over me. It means my business plan is working. If I’m doing my job as a practice owner, I’m not just there to see patients. I’m there to build a business that reflects my way of doing things, that functions with or without me there and that ultimately can support my personal life.

Ownership means I know my business

My final bit of reflection is that paying attention to the business aspect of ownership is an extremely important part of not being tied to the practice 24/7. Without charging appropriately, hiring and keeping the right amount of well-trained support staff, and delegating management activities, ownership would be just another burden on top of the stresses of practicing veterinary medicine.

By planning for the future and ensuring all of those things are in place, I can be more productive when I am available to work. I can get the same amount done in less time. Why would I want to extend the time it takes me to accomplish the same tasks at the expense of having less time and energy to do other things I enjoy? With a little planning, priority setting and personal motivation, it’s possible to do more than those who are willing to settle for less.

Don’t get me wrong. I work hard. Early on, as a solo practitioner, I worked often. But it’s always been about my practice supporting my life and my family—not my life and family supporting the practice. I work hard as a practice owner, and I also work hard at being a good husband and a good father. I work hard at giving back to the community. And I play hard. Life’s better that way.

Dr. Michael Watts owns Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care in Amissville, Virginia.