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Entrepreneur Insight

Healing Animals, Running a Thriving Private Practice

August 15, 2016

How the owner of Uptown Animal Hospital balances healing with commerce.

Dr. Julie Voltin has always known that she wanted to be a veterinarian. What she didn’t expect was that she would also become a business owner.

“It’s a pretty emotional job. You can go from having a brand-new puppy exam to seeing a dog for their final visit. The emotions can go from high to low in a quick period of time; and then you have to come back to your desk and pay some bills or do payroll,” Voltin says.

Running a business takes a whole set of other skills that are very different from being a veterinarian. On a typical day, she will treat 15-20 dogs and cats, along with walk-ins and emergencies, too. She also has a passion for rescue animals and has found new homes for countless puppies and kittens. At the same time, she needs to keep the operation humming along, manage a staff of 10, fill prescriptions and balance the books. Voltin acquired Uptown Animal Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., in 2010 and now takes in $1.2 million in annual revenue.

“Being a business owner, you’re wearing one hat part of the day. Being a vet, you’re wearing another hat,” Voltin says. “I actually have two desks, one where I’m a business owner, and one where I’m a veterinarian, in my office.”

Dr. Julie Voltin performs surgery on a dog at at Uptown Animal Hospital in Long Beach, Calif.
"It’s a pretty emotional job. You can go from having a brand-new puppy exam to seeing a dog for their final visit."

- Dr. Julie Voltin

Improving cash flow

For medical practice owners like Voltin, staying above the vet clinic overhead, building costs, medical equipment and other unexpected expenses is a constant challenge.

Some common ways businesses improve cash flow are to do a thorough evaluation of supply partners, lab or other service agreements, or to renegotiate leases and fee schedules.

You can also get financed by a bank, through commercial loans. Voltin got her business loan refinanced from East West Bank, which enabled her to pay off a portion of a seller note, and create a cushion in the event an unexpected expense arises in the future.

“Over the course of the loan, this refinance with the lower interest rate is going to save a lot of money,” Voltin says.

“Over the course of the loan, this refinance with the lower interest rate is going to save a lot of money."

-Dr. Julie Voltin

 Dr. Julie Voltin checks up on a dog
Dr. Julie Voltin checks up on a dog

Wearing two hats

Having to wear the two hats of doctor and business owner can be tricky to navigate. A feeling of being an island unto oneself is very common, according to Dr. Kimberlee Buck, a director of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners Foundation.

“Being a solo practitioner is very isolating and it is very easy to fall into a rut,” Buck says. “You need to develop a network of other veterinarians and, in particular, practice owners, to have someone to bounce ideas off of, and an extra set of eyes with difficult cases.”

Buck recommends the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an online community with education and information resources for veterinarians, and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. “It’s a wonderful resource for developing a network of high-performing veterinarians,” Buck says.

As for Voltin, she stays in close contact with friends from veterinary school to swap information and resources. She also stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with the right staff and keeping the door of communication open to make sure they’re happy.

“You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so make sure you surround yourself with a really strong team. Honest people, caring people – I don’t think they’re easy to find, so when you have them, make sure you hang on to them,” Voltin says. “I never knew I was going to be a business owner, but having been a business owner for the last few years, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

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