Once upon a time, vet clinics could happily survive with a few vets, a few nurses, and maybe a head nurse or practice manager.
These few people were enough to run a vet clinic's day to day operations, as well as running the business.
When the first corporate veterinary groups started in 2006, many smaller independently owned clinics just couldn't see the need for all the business, HR, legal and marketing departments, which were all managed by a head office.
It all seemed very unnecessary, having survived on their own just fine for years...
Fast forward to today and corporate veterinary groups have increased in numbers within Australia, with plans to acquire more clinics over the next few years.
The market has changed too. Vet clinics are busier than ever, having to cope with the increase in pet ownership, particularly during the covid lockdowns. Staff shortages have become a huge problem, with both vets and vet support staff. The knock-on effect is increasing workload, increasing stress and clients who expect more than ever from their pet's healthcare providers.
In this changing environment, independent clinics are desperately looking for help. All the business departments run by corporate head offices that they once scoffed at now don't seem so indulgent.
This has definitely been the case in our vet hospital. In the fifty years that Port Macquarie Veterinary Hospital has been operating, we have seen many changes, both internally and externally.
In my role as Practice Manager, I have faced many challenges with trying to keep up with it all. Trying, often in vain, to manage a variety of tasks from different business departments - with only my sheer determination and "can-do" attitude.
Even with a business marketing background, there are many areas for which I am totally untrained. HR is definitely one of them.
So, with all these new challenges, what is the way forward for independent practices like us, trying to do it all on our own?
Luckily, in IVA (Independent Vets of Australia), we have found a group where like-minded independent vet clinics have come together to share experiences, expertise and support towards a common goal - successful independence.
Last month, we were fortunate to be invited to the annual IVA Conference, titled EMPOWER 2022. The three-day conference consisted of various experts sharing their insights on leadership, digitalisation, pricing and HR. There was also time allocated for networking with other vet clinics and suppliers.
True to the title, we actually finished the conference feeling empowered - full of new insights, ideas and contacts.
As an independent vet clinic, we have the opportunity to build strong personal relationships, and have the flexibility to offer treatments and form relationships on a more personalised basis. But to remain competitive, we need to get our business management practices in order.
In this changing market, independents need each other more than ever, if we are to continue to strive for that goal of successful independence.