Equine veterinarian Dan Carter has always known he wanted to be his own boss, so during his final year at the College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009, he jumped at the chance to participate in the veterinary practice management externship program.
The program is a collaboration between UGA’s Small Business Development Center, one of eight public service and outreach units tasked with extending the university’s resources and expertise throughout Georgia, and the College of Veterinary Medicine. The externship exposes students to the challenges of owning a veterinary clinic while helping clinic owners strengthen their businesses. It also acts as a bridge of engagement between SBDC, UGA’s veterinary school and its students, and clinic owners. SBDC also collaborates with the College of Pharmacy to run a pharmacy management externship program.
“UGA is producing top-notch veterinarians and pharmacists,” said Jeff Sanford, SBDC’s director of entrepreneurial studies and of the externship programs. “SBDC wants to help them become successful small business owners while at the same time assisting current clinic and pharmacy owners.”
Participating students spend about 80 hours on an analysis project in each pharmacy or clinic. They observe workflow, review financial records and interview owners and staff. Then they create an in-depth financial report that includes a business valuation and recommendations. SBDC estimates that a pharmacy or veterinary clinic assessment would cost between $2,000 and $5,000 if it were performed by a consultant.
During Carter’s externship, he observed the inner workings of two Northeast Georgia veterinary clinics. After graduating from the vet school and interning at an equine hospital, he returned to Georgia and hung out his shingle in the Morgan County area.
“The SBDC practice management externship opened my eyes to the possibilities and gave me a clear-eyed look at the business side of owning a veterinary practice,” said Carter.“It gave me the confidence to take on the challenge of being an owner rather than just a veterinarian.”
Pharmacist and UGA alumnus Steve Spruill, owner of Maddox Drugs in Toccoa, opened his pharmacy to the management externship.
“When I was in pharmacy school, they didn’t have anything like the SBDC externship,” Spruill said. “You learned by working in a pharmacy. Then you might some day buy the pharmacy you were working in without any real business knowledge.”
During the five-week pharmacy management externship managed by Sanford and SBDC, fourth-year pharmacy students Justin Hildreth and Jonathan Alligood analyzed Maddox Drugs in addition to three others in Northeast Georgia. In one pharmacy, the students helped modify the layout of the store. In another, they helped develop a diabetes outreach program. For Maddox Drugs, the students crunched the numbers and presented Spruill with their analysis. Hildreth credits the externship with exposing him to the business side of a pharmacy and thinks the experience will make him a better pharmacist.
“I learned that you have to train your staff well so you can delegate with confidence and you have to use all the resources available to you,” Hildreth said. “And don’t turn away from compounding drugs giving flu shots, and selling durable medical equipment. Oh, yeah—and hire a good lawyer and CPA. Not just an accountant, but a CPA.”
“Overall, these rotations are win-win for all involved,” Sanford said. “Bringing students and owners together has been phenomenal. Interest in the externship program by both students and practitioners has grown every year.”