How To Start a Veterinary Practice

May 28, 2024 5:00:00 AM / by Chad Hutchison

Now that you’ve finished veterinary school, you may be looking into how to start your veterinary practice. While school focuses on all the necessary knowledge and skills to become a good veterinarian, starting a successful practice is often far more about business skills than your medical education. Because of that, some new graduates find themselves unprepared for what lies ahead.

So, to ensure you’re better prepared, this article will cover all the necessary steps, equipment, and give some great business tips for starting a thriving veterinary practice. 

Let’s get started.

10 Expert Tips for Starting a Veterinary Practice

1. Get Some Experience Practicing Veterinary Medicine

If you’re fresh out of school, spending some time getting experience and developing your skills as a veterinarian is a good idea. That way, you’re not trying to hone your skills working with patients and their people while also learning how to run a business at the same time. 

It’s also a good way to make some money while you spend your evenings doing a business course, shopping for a location, planning a budget, and working on all the necessary steps to starting your veterinary practice. 

2. Learn Some Business Basics

Running your own practice is as much about the business side of things as it is about practicing veterinary medicine. You may be a fantastic veterinarian, but your first few years will be a struggle if you don’t have some basic business skills. So, taking business courses is a good idea for a successful practice. 

Even a simple small business course you can take online at night will teach you some basics that’ll help you succeed. 

3. Talk to Other Veterinarians

Reach out to veterinarians who already own their practice. Ideally, talk to someone who is still new to having their own clinic and someone with years of experience to get different perspectives from those at different stages of their careers. You can learn a lot from your peers and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes they may have made. 

4. Research Your Location Thoroughly

Spend time researching your chosen location thoroughly because the location is everything for any business. If you’re a veterinarian focusing on cats, dogs, and other small animals, you probably want a location in town where your customer population density is the greatest. Also, pick a location with good parking right out front. Your clients won’t want to carry their pets too far, especially not across busy streets. 

Suppose you’re opening an equine or other large animal clinic. In that case, you‘ll want an especially large space with plenty of room for horse trailers, an area to examine the horses, an area to perform surgeries, and room for them to recover from surgery. 

If you want to build your own clinic from scratch, you’ll need to choose your location, talk with an architect, and find out what exactly will be needed and how much it will cost before purchasing land and supplies to start construction.

The other thing to consider is taking over an existing practice. Again, consider the location carefully and ask to see their financial books before you decide to buy their practice—you don’t want to buy a business that’s already failing due to poor location, mismanagement, or any other serious issue. 

Opening a mobile clinic is another option. This is especially common with large animal veterinarians in rural situations, where it's often easier to travel to your clients than to have them bring your patients to you. Opening a mobile clinic has lower up-front costs but has some special considerations regarding mobile equipment purchases. 

5. Consider Your Competition

Related to location is an examination of your competition. How many veterinarians are in your chosen area? Where are they located, and consider how busy they are. Ask friends or family who may have used them how busy and popular they are since that’ll help you determine how much room there is in the local market. 

If the market is tough with lots of good vets already, but you need to be in that area for other reasons, you’ll need a good niche that sets you apart from the rest of the competition. 

6. Assemble Your Team

Even if you’re doing a mobile clinic, you can’t do it alone. Everyone needs a team of professionals who can help get their practice started. Mobile clinics will still require the services of an accountant, an attorney, and an insurance agent to help you get your clinic opened. Larger practices may also want to hire a business consultant and start thinking about a marketing specialist at this point.

7. Create a Financial Plan

The next big thing is to create a financial plan. You need to know how much money you’ll have available to see where you can lease or buy and what equipment you can afford. For example, if you want to build a clinic, you’ll need to know how much that will cost. You don’t want to spend all your money building only to find out nothing is left to buy equipment. 

Talk to your accountant; they’ll develop financial projections to help you understand what you have and need. Once you have an idea of costs and your current budget, consider whether you have enough credit to get started or need to take out a loan. You’ll need those financial projections from your accountant to apply for a small business loan.

8. Purchase Your Equipment

If you’re starting a new clinic, equipment costs can add up. You’ll need to buy anesthesia machines, lighting, IV pumps, exam and surgery tables, kennels, medications, autoclaves, digital scales of different sizes, tools for taking samples and administering treatments, and probably some retail supplies like food, collars, leashes, toys, kennels, and other things. 

An essential piece of equipment you shouldn’t overlook is buying quality veterinary X-ray machines, which are essential for diagnostics. The cost of veterinary X-ray machines can vary significantly, depending on the type of machine. 

Stationary machines like the Clear Ray 1500 are best for clinics since they’re permanent and make it easy to take high-quality X-rays. However, if you’re opening a mobile clinic, portability without compromise is key, which is what you’ll get with an HF120/60HPPWV Powerplus Portable X-ray

Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT) is an innovation in veterinarian imaging that’s increasingly being used, especially in small animal medicine. CBCT provides high-quality 3-D images of bones, teeth, and soft tissues with extraordinary clarity compared to traditional 2-D X-rays, making them invaluable in diagnosis and pre-surgical planning to minimize risk and speed recovery times.

Finally, if you intend to offer dental services, you’ll need a quality, cost-effective dental X-ray machine like the Genoray Dental X-ray and MasterDent.

No matter what kind of clinic you’re opening, research your options thoroughly to help you choose the best veterinarian X-ray machines

9. Develop a Marketing Strategy

Remember, opening a practice isn’t just about medicine but also business. There’s no point in having a practice without clients, so a marketing strategy is crucial for any new clinic. Even if you’re buying an already successful clinic, you’ll still need to do some marketing to let people know that the existing clients are in good hands and to welcome new clients by showing them what skills you have and what sets your business apart from all the others. 

If you can afford it, hire a marketing professional, even on a short-term basis, to help you get off the ground. However, if you’re on a strict budget, you could start with flyers you can make yourself. 

Other good marketing strategies include offering a referral program for clients who recommend you to others and having promotional offers where new clients get a great discount on food or other supplies with their first visit to your clinic. 

Another option to consider is using wellness plans where clients make routine monthly payments that come off their vaccines, neutering, spaying, or any other future expenses they may have. It helps clients who love their animals but are on a budget while ensuring a steady cash flow for your practice. 

10. Hire Your Staff

If you’re getting ready to open your doors, you must hire staff. Knowing how much help you need initially can be challenging, so start small but not too small. Hire a receptionist and a technician. If you’re worried you may not have enough work, hire them part-time, but let them know it may grow into full-time. You may be surprised to find that you’ll quickly need additional staff. 

As your practice grows, you may need additional technicians and another veterinarian to allow you some time off. Consider offering part-time jobs to students to help clean kennels and the clinic at night.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Equipment Is Required To Be a Veterinarian?

A lot of equipment is needed to open a veterinary practice, including, but not limited to, X-ray machines, dental X-ray machines, anesthesia machines, lighting, IV pumps, exam and surgery tables, kennels, autoclaves, surgical instruments, and various tools for taking samples and administering treatments.

How Profitable Is a Veterinary Practice?

Most veterinary practices generate $300,000 to $600,000 in annual revenue per full-time veterinarian. The profit margins on that revenue are between 10% to 15% for most small animal hospitals and as high as 15% to 25% for emergency and other specialty practices, or about $30,000 to $150,000 in annual profit.

Final Thoughts

Opening a veterinary practice can be rewarding and profitable, but it requires some knowledge about business and a team of people who can help you make it work. In addition to a clinic space, tables, and medical supplies, you’ll also need things like anesthesia machines and, of course, high-quality Veterinary X-Ray Equipment that you can get from Maven Imaging. 

Now that you have all the expert tips and steps to consider, you can start developing your plan to open your own profitable veterinary clinic.

Tags: Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Practice

Chad Hutchison

Written by Chad Hutchison

Founder and CEO of Maven Imaging, Chad Hutchison has been in the medical imaging equipment market since 2003. As his business grew, he pioneered buying and selling medical equipment online and eventually began offering leasing and financing to meet market demands and help customers. His market expertise goes beyond traditional medical imaging and finance support, as he’s spearheading cloud-based lending solutions for vendors across the sector.