Jeff Sanford knows small businesses are vital for Georgia’s economic growth. As director of entrepreneurial studies at the UGA Small Business Development Center, Sanford partners with UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Pharmacy to teach specialized business education programs that help better prepare students for one day owning or buying their own practices.
Sanford also consults with veterinarians and pharmacists across the country, educating and helping them grow their businesses.
In recognition of these efforts, Sanford has been named the 2014 recipient of the Walter Barnard Hill Fellow Award presented annually by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach. The Hill Fellow Award is UGA’s highest award in public service and outreach, recognizing sustained, distinguished achievement and contributions to improving the quality of life in Georgia or elsewhere.
“The successful collaborations Jeff has forged with the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy, the expertise he has gained in these professions and the impact he has had with students and practitioners are points of pride for SBDC,” said Allan Adams, director of the SBDC. “He truly has established one of the most important collaborations we have ever had with academic units at UGA.”
Nearly 15 years ago, CVM alumni voiced a concern that students needed to have better business skills when they graduated. CVM administration took this advice very seriously and reached out to SBDC, eventually establishing a partnership with Sanford. Not long after, the partnership also extended to the College of Pharmacy.
Based on the unique needs of each college, Sanford created a tailored curriculum that would be used to teach students the basics of business and entrepreneurship. Classes primarily focused on relevant industry case studies as well as interaction with practice owners. However, initial results weren’t quite as great as Sanford had hoped.
“What I found was, that because these courses were right in the middle of the medical classes, this idea of business and entrepreneurship was really an abstract concept and students were having a hard time grasping the idea of business ownership,” Sanford said.
In response, in 2007, Sanford expanded the curriculum at CVM and began implementing a practice management externship that took students out of the classroom and into practices around Georgia. In 2009, he implemented the externship program at the College of Pharmacy.
During the practice management externship, students spend approximately three days in each practice interviewing owners, associates and staff; observing workflow; conducting cost-benefit analyses; assessing marketing efforts; and dissecting financial and patient records. The students then spend several days analyzing the data and compiling a detailed report that they then present to the practice owners. When it’s finished, the students have learned the basics of practice ownership, and the clinic owner has received a detailed report on the health of his or her business.
“My goal is that the students recognize it’s not about just learning something but it’s also about applying their knowledge in new and different ways,” said Sven Oie, dean of the College of Pharmacy. “That is the best thing you can have for any students when they are looking for new opportunity or ways to utilize what they have learned. It’s what I want to see in all of our students if I possibly can.”
The program is designed to give veterinary and pharmacy students the skills needed to be successful business owners and to be a bridge of engagement between SBDC and practice owners throughout Georgia. According to CVM Dean Shelia Allen, students are much more practice-ready after the externship and much better business people when they graduate.
“This program has been such a success that the national associations have become aware of it and are urging other schools to implement this curriculum in their schools, too,” Sanford said.
Students from other schools already are requesting to participate in the externships and some schools have begun to implement pilot programs, including the University of Florida. However, while national recognition is great, Sanford said his favorite part about his job is the interaction with students.
“Each year after graduation, I get dozens of students who call and ask about opportunities that have become available to them,” said Sanford, who serves as an ongoing resource for his students throughout the whole process. He helps them start or buy businesses and also provides them with a wealth of information and resources throughout their practice ownership experience.
“It’s really important for me to see their success,” Sanford said. “I really care about where they go and how they do. I want to see them do well and want them to be successful. That is my main goal.”