Exotic Animal Corporate Practice – Transition from private practice


The transition from practice owner to corporate veterinarian was not difficult for me. My background has taken me through many institutes of higher learning and all over the United States. I graduated with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University in 1981. I was persuaded by my college guidance councilor to pursue engineering over veterinary medicine for reasons that in retrospect seem trivial. For 9 years I practiced as an engineer in corporate America. Although engineering was a very good vocation, I never lost my desire to be a veterinarian. The decision to change occupations in the middle of a successful career was difficult, but I have never regretted the choice. It has always been my contention that life is too short to spend your working hours in a profession that is not fulfilling. With that thought in mind, I transitioned from a Senior Consulting Engineer to a Kennel Worker in one weekend. We all have fascinating stories of our road to veterinary medicine, but the details of my path are not the subject of this article. Suffice it to say, I graduated from Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995. I worked for a year at a private companion animal hospital in Greeley, Colorado, and accepted an Internship position with Kaytee Products, Inc. in Chilton, Wisconsin. With one giant leap, I was back in Corporate America. The internship at Kaytee turned into a full-time position as the Manager of the Avian Research Center, a 5000-bird facility where we bred psittacine birds, ran an avian nursery, and studied psittacine bird nutrition. After leaving Kaytee, I served as an interim Clinical Instructor at the University of Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in the Special Species Service. From Wisconsin, I was selected for the Residency in Companion and Wild Avian Medicine and Surgery at North Carolina State University. After completing the residency program, I reentered private practice in Irving, Texas, and eventually owned and operated my own practice, the Avian and Exotic Mobile Veterinary Clinic, which served the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area. In February of 2003, I chose to move to San Diego, California, as the first National Director of Veterinary Medicine for PETCO Animal Supplies, Inc. Before accepting the position, I was assured that I would be able to have a substantial impact on the health and well-being of the animals and products carried by our retail stores. PETCO has been true to their word and has supported me well. Until I was hired, PETCO derived valuable and expert guidance from a consulting veterinarian in the San Diego area. With the support of the consulting veterinarian, PETCO decided it was time to employ a veterinarian on a full-time basis. The transition from private practice to the corporate world has been challenging at times, but because of my background, I was already familiar with many of the aspects of the corporate world. In every business, hierarchy is important, and in major corporations it can sometimes be stifling. Fortunately, my position at PETCO allows me to traverse interdepartmental boundaries easily, almost to the degree of an outside consultant. In any and every job there are stresses, challenges, and opportunities that must be dealt with in a rational and informed basis. The challenges in private practice for most of us are much different than corporate life. In private practice we have the challenge of difficult cases, late-night calls, disgruntled or otherwise challenging clients, and staffing problems to keep our days occupied. It is generally the challenging clients and internal staffing problems that keep most private practitioners up at night. As a practice owner you are the ‘‘master of your fate,’’ and you can make decisions in a timely manner without obtaining approval from anyone but your significant other, practice partners, and possibly banker. The corporate world, from the perspective of a veterinarian, does not have the same types of stressors but does possess a litany of its own. One of the main items that needs to be reconciled is the amount of time between the making of a decision and the implementation of the action at the retail store level. Depending on the change, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year to see the results. For those of us with a limited amount of patience, the time factor can be a real challenge. Another factor to consider is travel. In most veterinary practices, the only time the practitioner leaves home is to go to a continuing education seminar or a family vacation. The corporate veterinarian for a national company like PETCO can plan on being away from home at least 25% of their time up to and exceeding 50% of their time, depending on the scope of your duties and the size of your company. Some of the positive aspects of corporate life that are not difficult to transition to are a steady, predictable paycheck, a clean and comfortable office, ‘‘normal’’ working hours and other perks offered by corporate America, such as excellent financial and medical benefits and vacation time.