Barnyard Basics: Building a veterinary practice

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  • Courtesy of Heather Smith Thomas Veterinarians Kliff Bramwell, son Mark Bramwell and Paul Martin pose at their clinic.

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    Heather Smith Thomas

  • Courtesy of Heather Smith Thomas Veterinarians Kliff Bramwell, son Mark Bramwell and Paul Martin pose at their clinic.

  • 1

    Heather Smith Thomas

Getting started in veterinary medicine can be a challenge. Some young veterinarians are fortunate enough to enter an established practice and help share (and build) the work load, while others start from scratch to build a reputation and clientele.

Dr. Mark Bramwell is one of several veterinarians at South Fork Animal Clinic in Rigby, a practice started by his now-retired father, Kliff Bramwell. Mark was born while his father was in vet school at Washington State University. Like his father, he also went to WSU for his degree, graduating in 2003. After working in a mixed practice in Oregon for two years, Mark came to work at the South Fork Animal Clinic with his father.

“One of the most important things in building a practice and gaining the trust and loyalty of your clients is being available after hours if you are needed — able to help someone in a bind. This provides an opportunity for clients to get to know you, and lets them know you will be there when they need you. If you are there when they need you, this helps earn their loyalty,” he says.

Word of mouth helps build a practice. If you have satisfied, enthusiastic clients, they tell their friends and neighbors.

“Another thing our clinic does, which creates a lot of good will, is host producer meetings once a year,” Bramwell says. “We provide information on a variety of cattle health topics. This helps educate our clients and it’s a chance for them to ask questions. Pharmaceutical companies generally pitch in, with food and speakers. This also gives an opportunity for to put your name out there, and gives potential clients a chance to meet you. Ranchers can see friends and neighbors there, and this also provides some confidence in the veterinarian they are using.”

When starting out, many young veterinarians have a mobile service, working out of their truck.

“A veterinary practice doesn’t require a building. We have a very nice one now, but my dad’s practice started from scratch as a mobile service,” Bramwell says. “The facility was our house. He started in 1977 and had a mobile practice for 11 years. Now we are a four doctor practice.”

Competitive pricing also is important.

“Clients appreciate knowing that their veterinarian will have the best price for them,” he says. “You won’t be able to beat someone else’s prices on every single product, but if you are competitive and generally have the most reasonable prices, this establishes some good will.”

Availability — being there when they need you — is a huge factor, along with trying to do a good job. This gives clients confidence.

“It is helpful to have a clinic with good cattle-handling equipment, or good equipment available to bring with you to a ranch call, such as mobile chutes,” Bramwell says.

Some producers don’t have good facilities.

“Most of the ranchers around our area bring animals to our clinic to be looked at or they have good facilities of their own, he says. “Many ranchers bring their bulls here to be worked on or semen tested because we have good facilities for this. In other situations where an animal is in serious condition and probably shouldn’t be moved, we go out to the ranch to take care of it.”

But trust is the key element, Bramwell says.

“If people trust their veterinarian they will keep using him/her,” he says. “If the veterinarian is not available, this is a negative. Even if the client does trust that veterinarian, he/she will go elsewhere.”

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