Work + Life Reimagined Interview Series Feat. Dr. Beth Davidow
WELCOME TO THE WORK + LIFE REIMAGINED INTERVIEW SERIES!
In this series, I feature successful accomplished women, working mamas, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and various professionals who dared to dream big and challenge the status quo. Each month you’ll meet a new vibrant person and learn about how they faced their fears to create the life and career that they wanted, all on their own terms.
I hope this series will inspire you to take action in your own life. As you read the stories of all these amazing people take note of their own struggles and the tools and tricks they use to adopt a more positive mindset and push through their own fears, doubts, and insecurities.
This month’s interview series is with an amazing veterinary specialist, multiple hospital business owner, and mom that I had the privilege of meeting earlier this year during a women’s focus group and think tank on practice ownership. She’s been super inspiring to me, and I love her thoughts on women in leadership roles, the state of the veterinary profession including corporate consolidation, and taking risks.
She also has an amazing blog that I encourage you to check out:
TO GET STARTED, CAN YOU TELL MY AUDIENCE A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND WHAT YOU ARE CURRENTLY DOING NOW?
I’m a 1995 graduate from Cornell University and I moved to Seattle right after I graduated. I thought I was going to do mixed animal practice but ended up falling into a small animal and exotics practice. I did that for a year, started picking up ER on the side, and then moved into ER full time the next year. I worked in emergency medicine for about four years and then decided to pursue a critical care residency in a private practice in Portland. While I was doing my residency, I decided that we really needed a 24-hour hospital up in Seattle. At that time (1999), there was no 24-hour multi-specialty hospital in the city of Seattle. Another woman, who was also an ER doctor, and I started working together, and we opened our hospital in September 2003. We started with 12 employees doing ER and critical care, and then slowly added specialists.
We were well received by the community and grew fast. We opened a second multi-specialty 24-hour hospital in 2010 and added 2 more partners. Then in 2013, we merged our hospital with Blue Pearl which was at that point a veterinary shareholder practice. I stayed 3.5 more years and then decided it was time to move on. Now I work for VIN as a consultant, do some additional consulting and lecturing, do primary care relief, and I also write a blog that’s called the Veterinary Idealist.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO FORM A PARTNERSHIP AND WHAT WERE SOME OF THE FEARS THAT YOU HAD TO OVERCOME TO GO OUT ON YOUR OWN AND DO SOMETHING THAT HAD NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE IN THE SEATTLE AREA?
I decided to join the emergency hospital full time as I loved the medicine and I really liked the woman who would be my boss. Right after I joined that practice, it was bought by Pets Choice, an early corporate group. We moved into a new facility and they put the two of us in charge as the medical director and associate medical director. One good thing about that group was that they had transparent business practices. Once a month they held leadership meetings for the 25+ practices they had in the area to look at the financials and really allow the leaders to help each other think through how to improve. I learned a ton about financial management from Pets Choice and their willingness to be transparent.
However, at that time we also realized that because there were no specialists anywhere, we needed a 24-hour facility. We originally were an after-hours only practice and I had cases that really needed the benefit of a 24-hour facility. Examples include pets with pelvic fractures or pets that couldn’t breathe, and I’d have to tell their owners that they’d need to go to their regular vet. I’d call the regular vet and the vet would say, “We don’t even have an oxygen cage, how is the best way to manage this case?” It just wasn’t a good situation for anybody. I had cases where I drove a pet myself on oxygen to get them to another hospital after working a 15 hours after hour shift. And then I had a case where we had a dog who had tetanus, who had to go back and forth in the owner’s car every day, and died on day three in the owner’s car.
I just started thinking, “This is just stupid”. Eventually, we were able to go 24 hours. That started to make things better but then we said, “You know, we really can’t do the care we want unless we start recruiting and hiring specialists”. However, that idea was turned down. Our management told us we had no vision and that was the point I decided it was time to leave.
I was putting in a lot of effort into making this group work. And my husband said to me, “I think you need to do your own thing because you’re basically spending all this paid time making somebody else’s practice better. You should get something for this if you’re going to work this hard.”
I think that’s one thing to really think about. Many of us think ownership is really scary. However, many of us are so devoted to what we’re doing that we’re working really hard anyway. And if you’re going to work this hard, you should get some benefit from it. You should be an owner.
DID YOU SEE YOURSELF AS AN ENTREPRENEUR?
I never thought that I would own a practice and I had very limited business knowledge or training. I had a single economics class in college and watched a few colleagues own their practice. While I was saying this isn’t working, we have to do something different, the woman who became my business partner, Dr. Jean Maixner, was having a similar experience at a different practice. Together we really felt like there was something else that should be done. She was the one who put together a meeting that included her, me, and four other veterinary specialists.
She was the impetus to get the whole group together. The six of us did put together a group and took steps to design a facility and start the business. However, the group fell apart. Jean and I decided we were a compatible partnership, formed a new group, and then opened our practice. The whole process took about four years. The other thing I would tell people is these things aren’t fast, but if it’s really what you want to do, you can make it happen.
You have to realize that all of this is a journey. You have to be OK with the journey itself because where you’re going to end up is not always clear. I really thought I was going to be in a small town mixed animal vet, a female James Harriet. And in fact, that’s not where I ended up.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING A MOTHER AND BEING A BUSINESS OWNER?
Well, it is not easy all the time, but taking control of your business also allows you to have more control over what’s happening with your family. We originally thought we were going to open right after I’d taken my boards from my residency. It ended up taking a long time to get the building constructed and for us to get a business loan. We ended up with a window between when we opened and when
I finished my residency, and that gave me six months maternity leave. I did have to spend a lot of time at construction sites and with bankers, but I was able to be with my daughter. She was 10 months old when we opened.
The beautiful thing with emergency medicine is that with me working full time and my husband working full time, we still only needed two days of daycare because my hours were different than my husband’s hours. We could both have good careers but not have to have our daughter in daycare five days a week.
There’s a lot of the stuff you need to do as a business owner that you can do from home such as looking at financials, doing Costco orders, having phone meetings, writing performance reviews, and trying to get your employee handbook in line. All those things could be done during naps or after bedtime.
As we got more profitable, we were each able to cut back. After my son was born, I was able to take some time off working as a veterinarian and just do management. If you’re not an owner, you can’t make that choice. You don’t have that opportunity to say, this year I’m going to work half time and next year I’m going to work full time, etc. You can do a lot of different things as an owner because you decide that’s what you want to do You can’t really negotiate in the same way with a larger organization.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING THE VETERINARY PROFESSION CURRENTLY?
I think that consolidation is a huge issue and I think that what’s even more important is the fact that the people who are controlling our profession are not veterinarians. It’s wealthy families such as MARS and the Reimann family. MARS owns an incredibly large portion of veterinary practices throughout the world and they’re buying more. Reimann is a very wealthy family in Germany and they now own NVA and Compassion First. And then there are a large number of private equity groups. Those groups are obligated to provide a return on investment to their investors.
I believe we need to encourage women to be owners and encourage the people who are retiring to at least give the people who had worked for them an opportunity to try to match the offers they’re receiving. Now, sometimes they need to take those offers: they can’t retire, they can’t pay their debt, they can’t take care of their families without a higher sale price on their practice.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER ADVICE OR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN OWNERSHIP BUT ARE AFRAID TO EVEN STEP UP BECAUSE OF ALL THE CONSOLIDATION THAT’S GOING ON CURRENTLY?
Well, I think the first thing I would say is here in Seattle, there are still a lot of independent owners and those owners are doing fabulous. If you run your business well, take care of your people, take care of your community, keep up with the maintenance, and do a good job medically, you’re going to be fine. Many practices are doing well, are profitable, are healthy, and will continue to be so.
You must think about your exit plan at the beginning. Exactly how are you going to get people involved and sell someday? The earlier you think about that the easier it’s going to be. But it is possible. You know, there’s lots of small businesses all over the country that are super successful.
Now another interesting question is how do you get women to become practice owners? And I think two things:
1) In general, men are more likely to take risks than women are. There are studies that show that if you write a job description, men will apply if they’ve met two-thirds of the job description items. And women often won’t apply unless they meet every single one. But in fact, most entrepreneurs are successful because they take the risk, they just jump. I think one of the things that’s important is that those of us who are leaders in the veterinary field need to encourage other women. We need to say, ‘take the leap, you’re going to be fine.” As moms, we need to be more proactive in encouraging our daughters to be risk-takers because that’s how you become a successful business owner
2) At the same time, there are lots of people to help you. One of the most interesting programs I’ve heard recently is called SCORE. SCORE is a nonprofit association that’s associated with the small business’s administration. It’s basically a group of business mentors that help small business owners learn how to run their small businesses successfully. You can get a mentor for free, and they offer low-cost business courses.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU RECOMMEND FOR WOMEN TO TAKE THE RISK AND BECOME THE LEADER THEY WERE DESTINED TO BECOME?
I think we need to make negotiation training part of vet school curriculum. We need to talk about gender differences upfront. There are some great resources for negotiation, and I think negotiation is a skill that you can learn. But you have to talk about it and we need to teach skills specifically designed for women vs. men.
Beth recently did a negotiating CE training through Mightyvet. If interested in learning more, make sure to also check out this free webinar when you join Mightyvet: https://www.mightyvet.org/courses/5d545e11c78e350e70e04c8a
I think women who have owned practices should try to be leaders and mentors. In Seattle, we formed a group called the Women’s Veterinary Practice Alliance Group. We’re all women practice owners and we get together six times a year to discuss different issues. Groups like this can be so helpful for support and comradery.
What’s your best working mom hack to get through the day?
Realize that some days you’re a good mom, some days you’re a good vet, some days you’re neither, and it all balances out. And that’s okay.
What is the last best book you’ve read?
The best fiction book I read is called Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel. Although it is about a disaster, it is ultimately a book about hope and resilience.
On the business side, I recently read The Veterinary E-Myth. The biggest take away is that you cannot be a successful business owner unless you work on your business, not just in your business.
What is the best thing to help you stay motivated when you just don’t feel like doing something? How do you keep yourself going as a successful person that you are?Different things motivate me at different times. I am one of those people who keeps a to-do list and a lot of checked boxes. I find I get the most done in any individual day if I say, “These are the three things I’m going to get done today”. I think that when you look at a list and you have 30 things you really need to get done that you often get nothing done. It is more productive if you say “Okay, of these 30 things, the ones I’m going to do this week are these.” Taking five or 10 minutes at the end of your day to really think about what you want your next day to look like really helps.
Thanks again for Dr. Beth Davidow for being part of this series. If you enjoyed learning about her story and journey as a female practice owner as well as her viewpoints on women in leadership and ownership, make sure to check out her blog posts. She’s been blogging now for almost two years and her insights are so well researched and cover many hot topics facing the vet industry today.
To get started, here is the link to her first blog, why women should own veterinary hospitals:
And the link to the importance of why with the tetanus story:
Please leave us a comment and let us know what you learned from Dr. Davidow — we’d love to hear!
If you are interested in participating in this interview series, please reach out here.
See you next month — until then, remember to challenge the status quo and create a work and life reimagined.