Q & A with Shawn McVey

by Guest Blogger on September 16, 2013

McVey058bShawn G. McVey, MA, MSW

Mr. McVey completed his graduate studies in 1991 in political social work and behavioral science. He then pursued a career as a psychotherapist and program director in psychiatric facilities, followed by a transition to administration of veterinary practices. In 2001, Shawn founded  McVey Management Solutions, a consulting business that specializes in improving health care delivery systems and improving workplace culture.

Mr. McVey is also the founder of Veterinary Specialists in Private Practice (VSIPP), an annual conference that provides continuing education for veterinarians and administrators in specialty practice. Mr. McVey is a graduate of Purdue’s Veterinary Management Institute, and is the first non-veterinarian to be named to the Board of Directors of the American Animal Hospital Association.

Shawn is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Veterinary Economics and FirstLine Live magazines. He has been named Speaker of the Year at both the North American Veterinary Conference and the Western Veterinary Conference. Shawn trains and consults with veterinary practice teams approximately 50 times per year.

Rebecca:  What concerns you most about the state of the profession right now?

Shawn:  Well, I thought about that question, and I think externally and internally are the answers.  Externally, what concerns me about the state of the profession is the constant struggle of the value proposition, the constant struggle of being able to sell value, and the fact that if we want to get—if we want to have the lifestyles that we want and need, we want our staff members to be elevated to the professionals that they aspire to be, then we’re constantly going to have to be charging what we’re worth.  And so, that means that we’re not going to be able to be there for every person who might want what we have to offer.

Shawn:   So that concerns me about the profession externally.  But internally—and then the second thing is I think the universities are so woefully out of touch with what the current markets are.  And they’re so driven … I think there’s going to be too many specialists, and I think the specialists are going to basically do hybrid, mixed practices.

I have a lot of concerns for the single veterinarian who is general practice-trained, and their ability to make a living in this profession.  I think it’s going to be very hard.

Rebecca:  Yes, I know, I agree.

Shawn:   Especially when they’re coming out with $200,000 worth of debt.

Shawn:   I look at Great Britain and Australia and other places where they come out of high school and go into a five-year program and graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Veterinary Surgery.  And then they get out and they make the exact same amount of money relative that the general practice veterinarians do in the United States and Canada.

Only they’ve got one third of the debt.  And so I think we’re going to have to come up with a different model of training veterinarians that doesn’t cost so much.

Shawn:   And internally, what really concerns me about the profession is the denial that current veterinarians are in about their need to be better businesspeople.

It’s almost disdain for any kind of business practice or discipline in business is viewed as getting all corporate.

So my concern internally is that veterinarians are not going to rise to the demand, and we will be completely corporate taken over because that’s the only people who know how to do it.

Rebecca:  I know.

Shawn:   And it’s happening.  I mean we’re going to go the way of human medicine.  The country doctors are no more, and it’s all corporate medicine basically, unless you have a few boutique kind of … you know, from high-end sports medicine clinics to plastic surgery, to rehab therapy … So I really think that the handwriting is kind of already on the wall.

Rebecca:  I agree.

Shawn:   I want veterinarians to be proactive and to decide their fate, rather than to be reactive and they seem to love to be reactive.

Rebecca:  We need to be focused on thriving instead of just surviving.

Shawn:   Yes, the attitude of scarcity …

Shawn:   And veterinarians act like, in my opinion, like they’re the only ones that have to go through this.

I mean every other successful business, from realtors to restaurants to auto dealers to hotels, they’ve all—they get it, that they got to figure out who their market is, make a product that goes to that market, not try to be everything to everyone and everybody—you can have a car, but not everybody buys a Mercedes, not everybody buys a used Chevy, but there is a place in the market for all of it.

Rebecca:  Yes there is.

Shawn:    Veterinarians want to be all things to all people and just don’t want to do any conflict, which is why I teach what I teach.

Rebecca:   What do you think is the best thing about veterinary medicine?

Shawn:   Well, the best thing about veterinarian medicine, other than the obvious answer of the work environment, working for animals and with animal which is cool to people who love animals.

But the global best thing about it is, I still think it’s one of the few professions where an entrepreneurialism can really be celebrated, like I think of all those people that, to be an entrepreneur, they go out and pay a franchise fee to Subway and own a Subway, and they’re not in love with sandwiches, they’re love with the idea of being businesspeople.

And the veterinarian gets to be the best of both worlds.

You can live your passion, and literally, if you have enough chutzpah, you can create a world that you live in that expresses your values, that expresses your spirituality, that expresses your passion, and choose people that are like you, or at least share your vision, to work around you.  And honestly, you can make a really decent living if you do it right.  It is hard to kill a veterinary practice.  If you just get the right location that’s not too saturated and you have a modicum of business checks and balances in place, you and your team can enjoy a healthy business for as long as you’re a member of the community.

So the opportunity … I know I’m talking about the demise of the business, but the opportunities that are still there in veterinary medicine are very exciting to me.

Rebecca:  One piece of advice you would give to a PRACTICE OWNER or somebody that—let’s say somebody that’s just recently bought a practice or started a practice?

Shawn:   I think my biggest piece of advice for a practice owner is to work with a plan.

Be intentional about what the business looks like financially, culturally, clients … so rather than waiting for the business to just happen, which is I think a lot of business owners do that.  They open up the business and five-to-seven years later they wake up because of some crisis and the lightening bulb for them is: “Oh, my God, I can change the direction of the business!”

So start out that way, with a plan and intention in mind of “I want to make this amount of money, I want these kinds of people around me, I want these kinds of clients, and here’s how I am going to get there.”  And along with that goes: build into your budget of opening the idea that you’re going to use professionals to help you, whether it’s consultants or AAHA or whomever, but get some help.

Rebecca:  Yes, we all need wisdom.

Shawn:   Because they don’t teach you what you need to know in veterinary school about running a business.

Rebecca:  [laughs] No, not so much, not so much at all.

Shawn:   And my advice for NEW GRADUATES would be to really, really choose your first practice very carefully because the first practice that you end up being in as an associate tends to be the one that really shapes how you feel, live, and believe about veterinarian medicine.  So you take on … It’s really like the same thing as a child being parented.

You really do end up taking on the personality of that original practice owner, the medical habits of that original practice owner, and the disciplines or lack thereof of the practice owner.  It’s like another marriage.

So choose very carefully your first practice, because once the person makes the move of getting out of a practice and going into their own practice or another practice, then it’s easier for them to do.  But for a lot of veterinarians, that very first practice is the one that’s hard for them to get out of if it’s not a good fit.

Shawn:    My advice for ASSOCIATES is get a voice, have a voice, and use it.

Rebecca:  Yes I second that!

Shawn:   Too many associates, I think, sit back and sheepishly accept whatever’s happening in the practice, and well, they believe – they falsely believe – that the owner knows what’s going on and the owner has control over the business.  What they don’t know is the owner is oftentimes running just as blind as they are, but they’re not talking about it.

And so, sometimes your best ideas as an associate, if you raise your hand and say, “Hey owner, I think we should do this,” they’re actually going to be receptive to it.

Like, “Hey owner, I have this idea.  Would you let me take this project and run with it?”

Rebecca:   So ten years from now – what do you think veterinary medicine’s going to be like?

Shawn:   Well, I think we are … there’ll be an acceleration of consolidation, and so there will be very few one-doctor, mom-and-pop clinics left …

Rebecca:  Why?

Shawn:   Because nobody wants to buy them, and there’s that more … if they do, like VCA, they’ll buy three or four of them, close them all down and have one mother-ship in the area.

So I think we’re going to see the end of the era of the kind of … just like we saw in the ’70s and the ’80s the end of the Marcus Welby, MD kinds of practices of just the local doc who everybody loves …

Rebecca:  Right.

Shawn:   …we’re going to see that going by the wayside, except for agrarian or kind of low population environments.  That’s going to be a massive shift.  I think we are going to see—so there’ll be a lot more consolidation and a lot more corporatization, not just VCA, but people like myself who are consolidating businesses and there are going to be a lot of people that have regional, 25 to 100 practice little kingdoms, if you will.  So that’s going to happen.

And the other transformation that I think will be dramatic in veterinary hospitals is that we are going to see many more hybrid practices.  So we’re going to see practices that have a specialist, general practitioners, and urgent care onboard.  So one-stop shopping for the consumer that will put the squeeze on traditional emergency clinics, and also put the squeeze on some specialty hospitals, to be quite honest with you.  So I think those are going to be the two biggest things.

And then finally, last biggest thing is I think we’re going to see a lot more professional management. People who are technicians, client service representatives, and even doctors, who thought that, well one option could end up to become a manger – I don’t think that’s going to be—there is not going to be as many options, because people are going to hire professional managers.

Rebecca:  Right.  As they should. 

 I can not thank Shawn enough for spending some of his valuable time allowing me the opportunity to interview him for our CatalystVETS community!   Make the time to attend his workshops-they are game changers and truly can get you started on your own journey to excellence! – Rebecca

 What insight did you take away from our interview with Shawn?


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert J Nix DVM, PhD September 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Really not much new that anyone who has read all of the major studies conducted by the profession or outside economists have said. The problem is that there have been no leaders in the profession in the schools or the AVMA who are willing to do what Peter F Drucker (greatest management scholar ever) called the two of the necessary things any organization must do to survive, to first abandon what no longer is relevant or valuable to the organization and then to innovate by which he meant to recombine the existing elements and bring in new elements in order to bring forth a new whole greater than the sum of its parts and produces value to its customer base in the marketplace. It will not happen in veterinary medicine until the arrogance is crushed by failure, a la NASA and two shuttle crashes caused by the same institutional mindset and practices.


Robert J Nix DVM, PhD September 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Sorry for the run on sentence. But I have seen a turnaround in an industry that has faced catastrophic failure. It was the US nuclear power industry after Three Mile Island and my father was very deeply involved in leading one power plant to national and worldwide excellence in worker safety and production excellence. I see almost no leadership of that caliber in veterinary medicine today.


Marie September 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm

First, I hope it does not take a catastrophic event before needed change occurs. I too am concerned of the problems facing our profession. I agree that our core organizations need to make some hard decisions but we as private practitioners need to offer them feedback as to what is going on in our own community or state.
As an older practitioner but a recent business owner, I have come to a realization that it may not be possible to be a good doctor and also run a business in today’s market place. I think Shawn has a point that more practices will need to be professionally managed. I am not saying by a corporation, but rather hiring a trained veterinary practice manager.(instead of opening more veterinary schools, more emphasis should be on training veterinary managers) .Incorporating some business courses, which I believe should be prerequisites for getting into vet school, would aid the vet in working with the practice manager.
I just received a letter from UNC. My daughter who attends is studying biology, but the school is offering a “mini-course” where a non business major could get a certificate in business by taking four on-line basic business classes. This basic knowledge would help not only a veterinarian but any other professional.
Thank you Shawn for taking your time to speak with and share your insights with Rebecca.


rebecca September 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I think you are right on the money- Marie! Thinking we can do “it all” is really crazy and at the very least unsustainable. Finding and keeping those great people around us can make all the difference in how well our practices are run and also how well our life away from work goes.

Thanks for commenting


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