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It’s no secret that with nearly 50 veterinary practice consolidators operating in the U.S. market, competition for clients and staff remains fierce. However, the contributions of independent practices, which remain in the majority, have been nothing short of extraordinary. They have fended off corporate purchase offers and thrived despite COVID, labor shortages and other significant challenges, all to make life better for animals and their owners. The work of independent practice owners is inspirational, to say the least, and it’s important to highlight and celebrate their achievements. The exceptional clinicians profiled on these pages decided proactively to remain in private practice, often to ensure that the workplace culture and their legacy stay intact.
As with any “best of” list, more veterinarians fit the bill than we could showcase in one article, so please know that ours is far from complete. Rather, we present a glimpse of 10 special veterinary practice owners determined to survive and thrive on their terms.
Erika Cartwright, DVM
Advanced Animal Care · Fort Mohave, Arizona
One of the most distinctive aspects of Advanced Animal Care is that it’s co-owned by a clinician and an administrator. Leveraging their complementary skill sets, Dr. Erika Cartwright and Jennifer Galvin created a flourishing, AAHA-accredited practice in a remote, previously underserved region of Arizona, California and Nevada.
As the name of the tri-state practice underscores, Advanced Animal Care and its 21-member team provide a level of veterinary care that didn’t exist in the sparsely populated area before AAC opened in 2012. Before then, pet owners had to drive more than an hour to find a veterinarian.
The co-owners’ motivation to launch a practice grew out of their dissatisfaction with their previous workplace and their desire for a great cultural fit.
“We envisioned owning a hospital where employees could grow and thrive while making a living wage,” said
Dr. Cartwright, an Oregon State University graduate. “I’d always wanted to own a practice but didn’t feel it made sense to do it on my own. As a veterinarian, you need to be available for your clients and patients, but managing an entire hospital is a full-time responsibility in and of itself. So, Jenn and I felt that together, we could form a practice where clients and staff could be better served.”
Their approach works because, like the other successful independent practices profiled on these pages, Dr. Cartwright and Galvin prioritize their employees.
“Hands down, the most special thing about this practice is our team,” Dr. Cartwright said. “It doesn’t matter how great the doctors are if the team isn’t there to support them. Team members will make or break a hospital. You’ve got to treat your people right.
“When employees feel like they have a stake in the business, that their opinions matter and that we’re always looking to improve the way we operate, it shows in their commitment and hard work.”
And that, in turn, translates into a satisfied, loyal client base.
She and Galvin are committed to remaining independent practice owners.
“We like to do things our way,” Dr. Cartwright said, pointing to their unusual clinic hours of Sunday through Thursday. “We don’t want to be told what’s best for our practice from a corporate office far away.
“We take pride in the service we give to our clients and patients and the different ways we support our community outside of the practice, and we both enjoy rewarding our staff,” she said. “We’re successful because of the decisions we make, and we wouldn’t want to change that.”
Lily Chen, DVM, CVA
Integrative Pet Wellness Center · Rolling Hills Estates, California
East meets West in this unique practice, which provides holistic veterinary care in a serene, homelike setting in an upscale suburb of Los Angeles. Dr. Lily Chen, also a certified veterinary acupuncturist, founded the practice in 2020.
After graduating from the University of California, Davis, Dr. Chen spent the first decade as a general practitioner in conventional small animal hospitals but gradually grew more interested in the holistic aspects of veterinary medicine. She launched a part-time house-call service in 2018 to deliver integrative care, which allowed her to spend time with pets and their owners where they lived — a more intimate, personalized and relaxed setting than a traditional clinic can provide. She soon needed to expand her practice, so she opened a brick-and-mortar clinic in a 500-square-foot space. Demand for her services exploded, so two years later, she and her team moved into their current 2,000-square-foot facility, which she characterizes as a “healing space for people and pets.”
Integrative Pet Wellness Center offers a wealth of services, including acupuncture, electroacupuncture, aquapuncture, sound healing and vibrational therapy, behavioral medicine and training, nutrition and supplement consultations, IV vitamin C therapy, laser therapy, wellness care, dental cleanings, medical massage, microbiome restorative therapy, electric stimulation, reiki, vitamin testing, and senior wellness and enrichment.
The open-concept practice is bright and airy. The top of the Dutch doors remain open to the outside, and calming aromatherapy scents the inside. There are no ringing phones; instead, soft music plays. Dr. Chen and her team work on one patient at a time, most of them on the floor. Clients note how relaxed they and their pets become after they arrive.
“The most special thing about this practice is that we can create an intimate bond with pet families,” Dr. Chen said. “We feel we’re all on the same side and that together, we are helping the pets get the best care that feels right for each family.”
Dr. Chen also strives to create an emotionally safe space for her team. “This is a judgment-free zone where people feel heard and supported,” she said.
She chooses to be an independent practice owner for freedom and autonomy.
“We set out to create a practice that is one of a kind,” Dr. Chen said. “Being independent means we can bring our unique vision and out-of-the-box ideas to life. We can also decide for ourselves what our priorities are. We are an intimate team, and it’s important to decide who we want to be as a team.”
Her advice to a prospective veterinary practice owner is this: “Understand your why — why you want to be an owner and why that’s important to you. Then, find your people and community who believe in the same things you do. Practice ownership can be really hard sometimes, so you’ll want to have a tribe there for you. And work on your people skills because it’s all about the people.”
Andrea C. Dunnings, DVM
East Atlanta Animal Clinic · Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Andrea C. Dunnings opened her primary care practice in 2002 in a then-underserved community. Today, East Atlanta Animal Clinic boasts seven DVMs, three registered veterinary technicians, six veterinary assistants, two customer service representatives, a practice manager, a clinic supervisor and an ever-growing roster of satisfied clients.
The secret to success is Dr. Dunnings’ emphasis on employee engagement through training and development. After earning her DVM from the University of Georgia in 1993, she worked at small animal practices and did relief work. During that time, she found it eye-opening how few practices seemed to recognize the connection between happy, engaged employees and a warm, inviting workplace culture.
To nurture that kind of culture at East Atlanta Animal Clinic, she prioritizes her team’s work-life balance. When she first started practicing, working 50-plus hours a week and every weekend wasn’t uncommon. In 2012, Dr. Dunnings closed her clinic on Saturdays.
Telemedicine has helped facilitate the work-life balance. While virtual visits became de rigueur during the pandemic, some veterinary practices abandoned the technology once COVID restrictions eased. Dr. Dunnings’ team, however, has expanded telemedicine, giving everyone a better quality of life since they can see patients virtually, even when they work from home.
A consistent focus on employee well-being has produced a “great team that really cares about our patients and gets along with one another,” Dr. Dunnings said.
“Lifelong friendships have been made,” she said. “We have many different personalities here, but we all mesh well. Our practice manager always tells new employees that everyone here is truly kind and that that’s why the atmosphere is so great. I think she’s right.”
Dr. Dunnings’ practice has remained independent for two decades because she has a vision and goals. While she’s achieved a great deal, including implementing staff retreats, she said there is still more to do.
“I like to invest time and energy into helping my staff develop into the best versions of themselves,” she said. “I don’t know that this kind of thinking aligns with most corporate operations.”
Judy Hung, VMD
Eastside Veterinary Associates · Kirkland, Washington, and Newcastle, Washington
Eastside Veterinary Associates is the epitome of the American dream. Founded in 2008 by Dr. Judy Hung, whose family emigrated from Taiwan to a small Oregon town when she was 7 years old, the two-location practice embodies her childhood dream to make life better for people and their pets.
It hasn’t been easy. After earning her VMD from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Hung worked as an associate veterinarian at a practice where a switch to corporate ownership resulted in losing the team she’d carefully built. The experience fueled her desire for autonomy.
So, despite having two small children and facing a nationwide recession, Dr. Hung was driven to create an “animal hospital with hospitality,” as she put it, and build a team that shared her vision. With an unfailing singularity of purpose and persistence, she succeeded.
Today, Eastside Veterinary Associates comprises eight associate DVMs and 33 veterinary technicians, assistants, customer service representatives and support staff in two clinics serving the greater Seattle communities of Kirkland and Newcastle. The practice has been named “Top Vet” by Seattle Met magazine or “Best Vet” by 425 Magazine every year since its opening.
“We stand out by doing the common things uncommonly well,” said Dr. Hung, who credits her staff for making it happen. “My teammates are a constant reminder of how blessed I am to be able to do what I was created for in my adopted hometown of Seattle. It is a joy to hear simple phrases such as ‘good morning,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘good night’ from each other as we live out our core values of having each other’s back and providing a safe space to learn and grow together.”
She is committed to keeping Eastside Veterinary Associates independent.
“The advantage of being independent is that our team is like a speedboat that can navigate rough waters with flexibility and efficiency,” Dr. Hung said. “Most of our talented team members are homegrown and can practice with autonomy, mastery and purpose to create a better life for pet owners and their beloved pets. We have proven that living your ‘why’ is possible while being financially sound. Transparency is a core value that we practice philosophically with each other and is reflected physically in our light-filled, modern buildings.
“It takes an extraordinary team to have this level of trust and respect for each other. We are grateful every day for our work family, which we call ‘ohana’ (the Hawaiian term for family).”
Julio Lopez, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM)
Jade Vets · Los Angeles, California
Talk about a turnaround. Originally owned by a solo veterinarian for 30 years, the urban practice was sold to a corporation in 2015. However, after a couple of years, the associate veterinarians left, and the owner couldn’t recruit new staff. The business closed.
Enter Dr. Julio Lopez, a board-certified internist, Los Angeles native and Cornell University graduate. Recognizing an opportunity, he joined Dr. Christine Fabregas-Arnau in buying the shuttered practice from its corporate owner. Unfortunately, the transaction took place at the start of the pandemic.
As co-owners and together with a third DVM they recruited, the team has rebranded and revitalized the practice. The new name, Jade Vets, reflects the symbolic associations of the mineral itself: healing, compassion, emotional balance, being in harmony with nature and helping people reach their full potential and higher purpose.
The neighborhood that Jade Vets sought to serve (Encino) welcomed the new business, and the practice is thriving with a team now six strong. Dr. Lopez’s internal medicine expertise is one differentiator setting the practice apart. Another is that Jade Vets plants a tree, via One Tree Planted, for every new client, a tangible expression of a core value to help create strong, healthier communities. In addition, a commitment to conservation motivates the owners to support organizations making a difference. Jade Vets awards travel scholarships to team members so they can take part in conservation efforts worldwide.
“We are building a practice where everyone is proud to work,” Dr. Lopez said. “We recognize that providing exceptional pet care — another of our core values — isn’t possible without a great team.
“We’ve chosen to be independently owned because we can make decisions not always solely based on the bottom line.”
Victor Ramirez, DVM
Los Angeles Veterinary Center · Los Angeles, California
While a lifelong love of animals drove his desire to be a veterinarian, Dr. Victor Ramirez’s modest upbringing gave him a keen appreciation for just how difficult (if not impossible) getting appropriate veterinary care can be for some pet owners.
So, when he started Los Angeles Veterinary Center in his hometown in 2017, after earning his DVM from the Western University of Health Sciences, Dr. Ramirez intended to make high-quality care more accessible and affordable. His approach was to establish the practice as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“After thinking a lot about the increase in corporate influence over vet care, the widening gap in treatment options for clients who can’t afford to see specialists, the increased burden of student loan debt among incoming vets, including myself, and the overall lack of community-centered veterinary clinics, this was the best option I could come up with,” he said.
The model is rare, Dr. Ramirez said, noting, “Most nonprofits focus on high-volume spays and neuters or rescues.”
Los Angeles Veterinary Center is a full-service primary care practice staffed by three DVMs in addition to Dr. Ramirez. They are all California natives, and three grew up in Los Angeles.
“We’re a community service organization that charges a reasonable fee to those we serve in order to pay the bills, and we work with many organizations that help subsidize reasonable treatment plans for those who can’t afford them,” Dr. Ramirez said.
He aims to provide the gold standard of care, but he never hesitates to help clients prioritize diagnostics and treatment options if the standard is beyond their financial means. His philosophy is to offer customizable medical choices based on client comfort and patient needs.
“We understand that every client has different expectations and every patient has different needs,” he said.
Dr. Ramirez acknowledged that he doesn’t technically own the practice because of its 501(c)(3) status, but he’s chosen to remain independent to satisfy the community’s needs.
Rachel Roemer, DVM, CVA, CVMMP
Great Bay Equine · Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Shortly after she started riding horses in fifth grade, Dr. Rachel Roemer told her parents she wanted to be a “horse doctor.” After earning her DVM from Cornell University and working for a few practices that didn’t provide the professional environment and opportunities she sought, she founded Great Bay Equine in 2016.
Dr. Roemer never envisioned being a solo practice owner. Instead, she thought she’d eventually become a partner, but she then realized it was up to her to take charge of her career and create her desired practice. And so she did.
Great Bay Equine maintains an office but no clinic. The practice provides full-service, on-the-farm ambulatory care and 24-hour on-call emergency services. Now a two-doctor practice, Great Bay Equine grew from “practically nothing,” Dr. Roemer said, within five years. Her team includes two veterinary assistants and an office assistant.
“I wasn’t handed anyone else’s client list, and we aren’t located in an underserved area,” Dr. Roemer said. “Our success is a testament to the service we provide and the team we’ve created.”
For an ambulatory practice, Great Bay Equine provides an array of services, including dentistry, ophthalmology, internal medicine, field surgery, gastroscopy, extracorporeal shockwave therapy, digital imaging, and laboratory and pharmacy services. In addition, its integrative medicine menu includes acupuncture and herbal medications. (Dr. Roemer is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and a certified veterinary medical manipulation practitioner.)
“Owning my practice has enabled me to do things both personally and professionally that would have been much harder or impossible without the amount of control I have as an independent owner,” she said. “Going forward, I think being independent will continue to give me flexibility and help attract and retain associates who’ll have a real opportunity to help grow and have ownership in the practice.”
She encourages anyone considering starting a practice to consult with colleagues who overcame business challenges and with distributors knowledgeable about equipment financing. For would-be equine practitioners, she recommends the Decade One networking program. “And get basic training in accounting and QuickBooks,” she added.
Although the idea of practice ownership is daunting, she said, “It was more attainable than I would have thought as a young practitioner right out of school. While there are extra stresses and responsibilities as an owner, the rewards have far outweighed the downsides for me.”
Daniel Stobie, DVM, MS, DACVS
NorthStar VETS · Robbinsville, New Jersey
One of the nation’s largest independent veterinary hospitals, NorthStar VETS is a paragon of cutting-edge clinical care, progressive values and a workplace culture that leads with customer service. Founded in 2000 as Veterinary Surgical and Diagnostic Specialists by Dr. Daniel Stobie, the practice today employs more than 250 people, including 50 board-certified veterinarians in 18 specialties.
After graduating from the University of Missouri, Dr. Stobie started small (literally out of the trunk of his car), traveling to local hospitals to perform surgeries. He established his first brick-and-mortar hospital three years later, offering 24/7 emergency care and internal medicine and adding specialties over time. In 2011, he opened a 33,000-square-foot hospital in central New Jersey and renamed the practice NorthStar VETS.
“I envisioned a place where we could do everything under one roof,” he said. “By not sending cases away to other hospitals for different specialties, pets could get everything taken care of in one place.”
The state-of-the-art hospital has won awards for its green building initiatives and sustainability practices, such as geothermal heating and cooling and the use of reclaimed materials from an old barn on the property.
To make care even more accessible and convenient, Dr. Stobie opened two satellite locations through which NorthStar VETS doctors rotate, providing consultations, rechecks and emergency care. It’s an approach he valued when one of his three children needed treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and got follow-up care at CHOP clinics closer to home.
NorthStar VETS continually develops new and improved treatment techniques.
“We’re always trying revolutionary procedures, innovative therapies and extensive clinical trials,” Dr. Stobie said. “These give us new avenues to help animals, and it’s really rewarding.”
He advises younger veterinarians considering practice ownership to be:
- Brave: “If it’s in your heart, then get out there and do it, and learn from your mistakes.”
- Patient: “Slow, controlled growth that allows you to build your reputation is always better than fast, uncontrolled growth, which leads to chaos.”
- True: “Stay focused on your vision for the future, even when things turn out differently than you planned. If you remember why you first set out to do this, you will always be aligned with your north star.”
Dr. Stobie said his practice’s independence confers significant advantages.
“We are very entrepreneurial; ideas can be quickly shared, considered and acted upon without layers of corporate bureaucracy,” he said. “Further, as a privately held entity, we’re able to focus on the integrity of our medicine, not money.”
Amy Stockton, DVM
The Stock Doc · Riverton, Wyoming
Wyoming is the nation’s least populated state but home to one of the most exceptional veterinary practices around. Founded in 1997 by Dr. Amy Stockton, who remains its sole owner, The Stock Doc is notable for its commitment to serving a rural county bigger than the state of Connecticut.
In a profession often plagued by burnout, The Stock Doc team of four female DVMs and 18 veterinary techs and support staff thrives on providing around-the-clock care for cats, dogs and farm animals. The work means long hours and lots of travel, but the practice’s ethos is to rise to the occasion when a client calls.
Dr. Stockton worked for other veterinarians after earning her DVM from Colorado State University. But seeking to practice “bigger” medicine than small-town veterinarians were willing to invest in, she bought and singlehandedly ran a mobile clinic that provided the county’s only ultrasound capability at the time.
She went on to build a full-service hospital, a dedicated team and an extraordinary culture, racking up a remarkable record of firsts along the way. Those included Fremont County’s first therapeutic laser, digital radiography, dental radiology, pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) testing and 24/7 on-call services.
Dr. Stockton’s ability to bring big-city medicine to small-town Wyoming at rural prices and build bonds with the community is nothing short of amazing. That’s because The Stock Doc prioritizes human care as much as the quality of its clinical offerings. The practice has:
- A fund to help clients who can’t afford a large emergency bill.
- Free or discounted spay/neuter and vaccinations.
- A staff that delivers gift baskets to clients who are alone on holidays.
No surprise that corporate consolidators have come calling. However, Dr. Stockton has chosen to remain an independent practice owner.
“We spend a lot of money and time to become veterinarians and technicians in order to build a legacy,” she said. “I cannot leave my team to the whims of a corporation whose CEO may never step foot in our clinic. Nothing feels authentic about that.
“Our practice needs to be the one of our dreams, the one that’s open on holidays, that cares with big hearts about our clients, that has weathered storms and only gotten stronger. It needs to keep its integrity and wholesomeness as it’s passed to the next set of hands.”
Amy Weed Tate, DVM
Riverview Animal Clinic · Birmingham, Alabama
Dr. Amy Weed Tate can’t recall a moment when she didn’t want to be a veterinarian. Childhood friends remember her carrying stuffed animals wearing Band-Aids and homemade wraps on their legs. Then, as a teenager, she went to work in the kennel at Riverview Animal Clinic and loved every minute. She even dreamed of owning the clinic someday.
Riverview Animal Clinic was opened in 1984 by Dr. Arthur Serwitz. Originally a boarding kennel known as the Motel for Pets, it evolved into a full-service animal clinic as Drs. Robert Wood and Alvin Atlas came on board as associates, then partners.
After earning her DVM from Auburn University in 2000, Dr. Tate joined the practice as an associate. Then, in 2007, she was offered a partnership option, which she accepted in 2008. Her dream had come to fruition.
When COVID hit, Dr. Serwitz sold his interest to the remaining partners. Through the transition, Dr. Tate took on the managing partner role and is energized by the challenge of finding innovative ways to lead the practice. She’s spearheaded such initiatives as developing a Riverview Animal Clinic app, boosting the practice’s social media presence and launching a dynamic, integrated website.
The foundation of all her efforts is essentially the Golden Rule: to ensure that everyone touched by Riverview — team members, patients and pet owners — is treated the way she’d like to be treated. That simple philosophy has delivered tremendous rewards by virtually every metric, not the least of which is that the practice today is a vibrant, profitable operation with eight doctors, a plethora of veterinary technicians and assistants, and administrative and client service personnel.
“I love that our veterinarians and staff love coming to work,” she said. “In this climate, I know that can be challenging, but with a solid culture and mission, our people are able to do their best work.
“And I love that my two teenagers now help in the practice,” she added as a sweet, full-circle footnote.
Dr. Tate and her partners are consciously committed to maintaining Riverview’s independence.
“We want the ability to create the culture and clinic that reflects what we want it to be,” she said. “We’ve created good internal management and leadership support to meet the staffing and administrative needs of running the practice day to day. I think that’s essential for independent owners so they can step back and see the bigger picture of where the industry is trending and be agile enough to lead the staff through necessary changes.”
To anyone considering owning a practice, Dr. Tate said simply: “Do it! It is a wonderful experience, and you get to fill your cup with many positives.”