Taking the leap from VN to practice owner

Written by: Pets at Home Vet Group RVNs
Published on: 8 Oct 2020

Stethoscope and clipboard

Image © megaflopp / Adobe Stock

Not too long ago, owning a vet practice may have seemed like an impossible dream for many VNs; however, the growth in partnership models has helped more and more nurses achieve this dream.

So, what is the best advice for any RVNs considering taking the leap? Here, four joint venture partners (JVPs) with Vets4Pets discuss their journeys from VN to practice owner, what they love about running their own business, and how they balance the clinical and non-clinical sides of their role.

Meet the participants

Carl May

Carl May, joint venture partner and head RVN at Vets4Pets Alsager.

Thomas Hallam

Thomas Hallam, joint venture partner and RVN at Vets4Pets Rushden.

Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith, joint venture partner and RVN at Vets4Pets Sunderland.

Rosie Watt

Rosie Watt, joint venture partner and RVN at Vets4Pets Bishopston.

Q Did you always want to have your own practice? Did you even think this was possible being an RVN?

Carl: “When I first started my RVN career, I never thought I would end up owning my own practice. When I qualified in 1996, most practices were individually owned and not as many corporates were around. At that time, I think most vets wouldn’t have considered practice ownership with a vet nurse. VNs generally progressed into a practice manager or a sales rep role.

“Owning a practice hadn’t been a goal of mine, but once I reached a point in my VN role where I couldn’t progress much further working for others, I began to look at next steps. My friend became one of the first RVN JVPs with Vets4Pets, so I looked into the group’s partnership model and, by August 2016, I had my own practice in Alsager.”

Thomas: “When I first started as an RVN I didn’t think owning a practice was possible; I thought I would have to become a veterinary surgeon to do so. Then I met Ellen, who is my co-JVP at our practice in Rushden.

“Owning a practice is something I had thought about, but I couldn’t have done it without Ellen. As a vet, she brings a different perspective to running the practice, which makes us the perfect team.”

Rachel: “When I first started in the profession, I didn’t really think too much about progression.

“I worked in a variety of environments through the years and, in 2002, I attended a CPD course that had a JVP from Vets4Pets discussing the group’s partnership model. My interest was piqued and less than a year later, I opened the group’s eighth practice as the group’s first ever RVN JVP.”

Rosie: “I began working at Vets4Pets Bishopston when it first opened. When the JVP decided to leave the business, he suggested myself and one of the vets take over the ownership of the practice, which we did. If you would’ve said one day I would own my own practice, I would’ve laughed. It was never a goal of mine or something I even thought was possible, but I love it.”

Q What do you like the most and least about being a business owner?

Carl: “My favourite part is the freedom to do things the way I want to do them. At Vets4Pets, we have clinical freedom and a high level of support from the group when needed, which I love. I also like instilling a real sense of family into everything we do.

“My least would be you never really switch off. You are the first point of call for everything, which can be stressful, but it is worth it because it’s your own.”

Thomas: “With Vets4Pets I love that you have clinical freedom, which allows you to run your practice how you want. I like all the business management side to running a practice.

“My least favourite part is disciplining the team when things go wrong, which, luckily, they hardly ever do.”

Rachel: “One of the main reasons I wanted to be a JVP was so I could control the team (in a good way).

“I have always been very passionate about letting nurses do what they are trained and capable of doing, not just holding pets and cleaning kennels, but so much more. I love that, as a practice owner, I am able to do this, and help them all progress their skill sets and their careers. I also love how varied the job is day to day.”

Rosie: “I am naturally quite organised and enjoy problem-solving, so I love managing the team – organising the rotas, holidays, all of that stuff.
I had moved into a bit of a practice manager role before officially taking ownership of the practice so, luckily, I was already used to doing many managerial-type tasks.”

Q How has being a business owner changed you? What new skills and knowledge have you acquired, and how have you grown both professionally and personally?

Carl: “I have been a head nurse for 20 years, so when I became a practice owner, I already had managerial skills in place, but I got to learn more about the behind the scenes of running a business, from finances to forward-thinking.”

Thomas: “I have learned so many business skills since becoming a practice owner and I have been on several courses – such as on finances and practice management – which I have enjoyed. The Vets4Pets support office is always there to help with anything I don’t know.”

Rachel: “I have acquired a lot of business skills since becoming a JVP and have developed in many different areas, from management to IT.”

Rosie: “Marketing is one of the new key skills I have learned as a practice owner. I now even work with other local business to help organise and market local events. I’ve also really enjoyed learning the financial side of the business.”

Q What challenges do you face being an RVN and a JVP? How do you split your time between clinical and non-clinical duties?

Carl: “You have to be incredibly organised to successfully balance the clinical and non-clinical sides of your job. The main thing that helps is being able to share the burden and split the workload – it is crucial to ask your team for help if you need it.”

Thomas: “I now only do nursing at the weekend and I don’t want to give it up because I really love patient care. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and look at how best to manage your time – but I do enjoy it all.”

Rachel: “I’m no longer on the nurse rota, but I do the odd day here and there, if needed. Luckily I have a great nursing team to rely on. I am also very bad at saying no to taking on students, so we currently have five students and a further four lined up who can help.”

Rosie: “I’ve taken a step back from the clinical side and nursing for the moment. I still spend time caring for animals, when necessary, but I now focus more on the practice manager role and responsibilities – which I enjoy.”

Q What advice would you give to fellow RVNs wanting to become a practice owner?

Carl: “You have to have the right experience, and be able to accept and be prepared for hard work.

“Initially, it is a lot of long hours and you may have to make some short-term sacrifices to help your practice grow. You can’t expect to see results and a good work-life balance right away, but with a lot of hard work and dedication, it is definitely all worth it to watch your practice grow and evolve.”

Thomas: “Personally, I wouldn’t be able to run my practice without my vet partner at my side. So find a partner you get on and work well with, and who has different skills and points of view to bring to the team.”

Rachel: “Make sure you know and trust the person you are going into partnership with. It is important to have a good working relationship and the right balance within the team. Also, be prepared and dedicated from the start as it isn’t easy, and there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into running a successful practice.”

Rosie: “Never say never about owning your own practice and don’t be scared to take the leap. You may not think you have it in you – I didn’t – but a lot of the skills you learn from being a VN can also be applied to running a practice.”