I’m currently in Las Vegas, lecturing at one of the largest corporate veterinary meetings: the Banfield symposium. For those of you not familiar with Banfield, part of the Mars family of businesses, they own almost 800 veterinary clinics throughout the United States. Some of these clinics are associated with PetSmart, as Banfield has a partnership with this national pet store chain.

Now, let me fill you in on a little secret: Most veterinarians don’t typically "like" corporate organizations owning veterinary clinics for several reasons. First, veterinarians want to keep the money within our own field. Veterinarians, while having very little small business training in veterinary school, have been very successful as responsible, profitable business owners. (In fact, veterinarians are often known for having excellent credit — we’re responsible, and until the late 80s, no veterinarian had ever defaulted on student loans [unlike the human medical and chiropractic field.]) So, the fear of large corporations taking over our clinics often makes veterinarians nervous.

That said, Banfield is doing something right. Their model was recently used as an example in human medicine of how to be a profitable — and successful — leader in preventive health. Banfield has a unique system that acts almost as its own pet insurance. In essence, pet owners contribute towards a preventive health plan that covers the majority of preventive care — including vaccinations, neutering, routine blood work, etc. This allows pet owners the ability to space out their payments appropriately, which is often helpful during this down economy.

So, what wow’d me at this conference? Two things. First, Banfield’s commitment to lecturing on leadership and communication (between the medical professional and the pet owner). These two skill sets are often lost on veterinarians, yet are vital to our profession. The second thing I loved about this conference? The veterinary professionals — veterinarians and technicians alike.

In last week's column, Why Our Profession Rocks, I talked about how incredible veterinarians are. Same thing at this conference. These guys believe in their brand. All the veterinarians and veterinary technicians are passionate about what they do, and they looked proud to wear Banfield on their sleeve (they were donned in Banfield fleece). They were engaged in my lectures, and they are passionate about learning.

I was impressed by the dynamic energy at this conference. (They paid attention during my lectures! They asked great questions! They wanted to learn!) In my field of emergency and critical care, where compassion fatigue and burn-out are common in the ER, it was refreshing to see people energized by keeping pets healthy.

What humbled me at this conference? What one speaker said: We are all taught veterinary medicine by specialists (hence, why I lecture internationally at large veterinary conferences). However, specialists don’t practice wellness and preventive care…

Touché.

As a veterinary specialist, I don’t typically do preventive care, so their point was legit. And I have to admit, because I’m a specialist, corporate medicine doesn’t affect me.

I still believe that regardless of who you see (corporate or private practice), if it’s a complicated case (e.g., cancer, severe metabolic problems, etc.), you should seek a veterinary specialist when needed. That said, when it comes to preventive care, my eyes were opened to corporate medicine at this conference.

What do you think? Have you had a positive or negative experience with corporate medicine?

Dr. Justine Lee

Image: ARENA Creative / via Shutterstock