Veterinarian – Mentor, Doctor Dan G. Danner
Dr. Danner is an accomplished veterinarian and businessman who has practiced veterinarian medicine for over thirty eight years. During that time he designed and built a surgical hospital recognized by the American Animal Hospital Association as one of the most innovative and functionally designed facilities in the nation. While Dr. Danner has a special interest in surgery, dentistry and dermatology, his hospital also provides care for all breeds of dogs, cats, exotic animals, small pets and most exotic birds. His practice is also unique because he treats monkeys and is one of only three veterinarians on the Board of the National Simian Society, a group that works to improve the condition of monkeys that are privately owned. Dr. Danner was also appointed to the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinarian Medical Examiners by the governor and has served on the boards of many national veterinarian associations. In his article, he points out how difficult it is to be accepted to veterinarian schools, ways to improve your chances for admission and how the profession has changed with more than 75% of new veterinarian graduates now being women. He also discusses the many specialties within the field of veterinary medicine and the basic business principals you need to know to run a successful clinic or hospital.
I always loved and had a rapport with animals. When I was in grade school I cared for injured birds and collected crawdads from a nearby creek. In ninth grade I got my first horse, which turned into a lifelong passion. While I was still in high school I became involved in training and showing a Palomino, Mr. Hourglass, a horse that became a National Supreme Champion. This was only the 12th Palomino to ever receive the title. In high school, I also developed an interest in diving. I trained hard and became the state high school diving champion. That award got me an athletic scholarship to Oklahoma State University. But I knew that I could not make money as a diver. I had done well in science courses in high school and knew I liked working with animals. So I decided to pursue veterinary medicine as my career. After I completed my undergraduate work in three years, I was accepted in the OSU Veterinary College.
If you consider becoming a veterinarian, it is important that you understand getting into veterinarian school is more difficult than being accepted to medial school. There are only 32 veterinarian schools in the US. Although they have expanded their enrollment, there have been only about three thousand veterinarians in recent graduating classes. This is a thousand more than were graduating just fifteen years ago. But it still represents a limited number of openings compared to the 18,000 who graduate from medical school every year. Because there are many more applications than there are openings, veterinary schools have a lot of people to choose from and look at more than just your grades when considering people for admission. Demonstrating that you have experience working with animals by being involved in things like 4H or FFA or something like horse training as I was is as important in getting accepted as a high GPA because veterinary colleges prefer a well rounded applicant. You should also know that because the state where a veterinarian school is located puts up a lot of money to train veterinarians, it is difficult to get accepted to an out of state school if there is one in the state where you live. Each state makes a large investment in its veterinary school and wants graduates who will most likely stay and give them a return on their investment.
The undergraduate pre-veterinarian curriculum I took was similar to pre-med. The first two years of veterinarian school and medical school are also similar with courses that include biochemistry, physiology, histology, anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, epidemiology, pathology and hematology. Beginning in the third year when the coursework become more clinical, veterinarian school training shifted more specifically to animals.
When I interned in 1978, I first took a job working at at the Oklahoma City Zoo and six months later went to an animal park near Dallas called Lion Country Safari. Unlike a zoo where you seldom enter the cages and interact with the animals, we were able to directly interact with a variety of exotic animals including lions, tigers and elephants and make immediate decisions about the animal’s care without going through a committee After three years I left the park and moved back to my hometown of Tulsa where I purchased a small veterinary practice. Two years later I leased space in a new shopping area near a major mall and opened my first clinic. During the next few years I became interested in doing more surgery and in 1988 designed and built a surgical hospital that was recognized by the American Animal Hospital Association as one of the most innovative and functionally designed animal hospitals in the country. Because I wanted to be able to give these animals the best care, I also invested in state of the art diagnostic equipment and a clinical laboratory. Because of the hospital’s reputation, we draw animals from a five state area for soft tissue surgery and procedures like back surgery. It is very gratifying to see a dog that has back problems and can hardly walk leave a few days after surgery mobile and happy.
I recently sold my practice and am going to be phasing into retirement. But as of now I still come in and do surgeries at the hospital and maintain a full schedule.
Different Areas of Veterinarian Medicine to Consider
About 70% of veterinarians have what most people would consider a general practice treating small animals like dogs, cats, and other companion animals and household pets such as hamsters and gerbils. But here are other specialty areas to also consider:
- Exotic animal veterinarians treat animals like reptiles, exotic birds such as parrots and cockatoos, and small mammals such as ferrets, rabbits, and chinchillas. I do this as part of my practice because of my training at the Zoo and Animal Parks.
- Public Health is a veterinarian practice that involves the study of the relationship between animal and human health. This is an important specialty. A lot of viruses that affect humans start in animals like different types of flue, poxes and most recently the Ebola virus that has been in the news. Helping keep these diseases out of the animal population is important work that protects the health of the general public.
- Laboratory animal practice is a specialty where some veterinarians work in a university or industrial laboratory and are responsible for the care and treatment of laboratory animals of any species. Their responsibility is not only for the health and well being of the animals, but also for enforcing humane and ethical treatment of the animals in the facility.
- Large animals veterinarians treat food animals like cattle and hogs as well as equestrian horses and zoo animals. These veterinarians primarily travel to where the animals are housed as well as seeing animals in their own clinics.
Private and public research laboratories, animal food companies and pharmaceutical companies often employ veterinarians who choose these specialty areas. Even companies like Coca Cola have veterinarians on staff.
Regardless of the specialty, to be a good veterinarian you have to be a good diagnostician. Remember your patients cannot talk to you and tell you what is wrong just like a pediatrician treating a baby. Because diagnostics is such an important skill for a veterinarian, Will Rogers once said “ If you really want to find out what is wrong with you, see a veterinarian’.
Managing Your Own Practice
Veterinarians in their own practice earn on average twice what a veterinarian earns being paid a salary. Depending on your practice, clinics earn in the range of $95,000 to $300,000. But while you can be a successful veterinarian, not all successful veterinarians have the business skills or are willing to make the time and financial commitment necessary to successfully run their own clinic or animal hospital.
When you run any business you have to be able to manage people. I have between 18 o 21 employees at my hospital depending on the time of the year with summer being the busiest for my practice. These employees include 3 veterinarians, 7 veterinary nurses assistants, 4 to 6 in the kennels, 4 people handling accounting and administration and an office manager. I hire other veterinarians so that I can concentrate on my specialty of surgery and still offer a full line of services. All these people need some training in the way I like to run my practice, which emphasizes a high level of cleanliness along with good customer service. This personal service can mean simple things like the way the phone is answered, appointments scheduled as well as follow up calls to check on the progress of an animal after a surgical treatment.
As a clinic or hospital owner and particularly with my specialty of surgery you are on call 24/7. Just like with people, animals have accidents and get hurt or sick any time of day. For example, I recently had to come in at 2 AM to perform surgery on a dog that had serious wounds from being in a fight with another dog and also come in after hours to do routine C sections for new puppies and kittens. Although these emergencies don’t happen every day, it is something you have to consider since it can often disrupt your personal life the same as some medical specialties like obstetrics.
You also must have good financial controls in place to manage your inventory of drugs and other supplies and to make sure your billing is complete so that you can price your services correctly. You also must have good accounting to be able to analyze trends in your business and to prepare budgets. Having a good office manager who can manage these financial reports is important.
When you are starting your practice, your initial location is important. You want to be in growing area of town and situated so that you are visible. I did at that time also use yellow pages. But a lot of my clients learned about my practice from word or mouth. Once my practice was established and I had built a good reputation, most of my new business came from referrals. Veterianry Economics in a professional publication that estimates that 38% of client come from referals. The next highest source of new busiess is Facebook at 10%. I also found having booths at community events and talking at elementary schools was a good source of new business as well a programs aimed at new residents to the area. Most veterinarian businesses budget 3% to 5% of sales for advertising.
Cost of Veterinarian School and Earnings Trends
The cost of your education as a veterinary college depends a lot on the state where you live and is much more expensive for out of state students In general tuition runs about $30,000 per year for a resident of the state and doubles for an out of state student. You then have to add another $10,000 for living expenses. So you can see that it is now easy to run up student loans of close to $200,000 just for veterinary college if you don’t have any scholarships, earn money in the summer or find other ways to cover the cost of your tuition and living expenses. You can get debt forgiveness if you go to underserved areas where in exchange for making a commitment to stay for some period like ten to fifteen years they will pay off your student loans. I had an athletic scholarship that paid my undergraduate tuition and also worked while going to veterinary college. So I was fortunate and able to graduate without any student debt.
There is a small over supply of veterinarians right now. After the recession in 2007, the horse population decreased by 30%, the dog population quit growing and the cat population started to decrease while the number of veterinarians continued to increase. There is a possibility that for the next few years there could be a few more veterinarian graduates than what the market will be able to comfortably absorb. This supply and demand normally gets back into balance in a few years and someone just graduating from high school who will not graduate from veterinarian school for eight years should see things coming back into balance. But if as you progress through your training you see job prospects are not trending the way you expected, there is always the opportunity to switch to medical school. Since the training is similar up until the third year, it is not uncommon for people to successfully make this transition.
Key Points to Remember
- Getting into Veterinary College is harder than getting into medical school. To be successful you must have good grades but also demonstrate that you have a well rounded personality and love, understand and have a rapport with animals
- It is an expensive education. Look for ways to minimize your student loans.
- Your have to be a good diagnostician to be a good veterinarian. Remember your patients cannot talk to you.
- Women are coming to dominate the profession with over 75% of the graduates the past several years.
- While you can work for a salary, you will generally make twice as much owning your own clinic. Develop a business plan and learn something about how to mange this kind of business before you take this step. Good vets are not always good business managers.
- There are a lot of specialized areas of veterinarian medicine you can explore besides working in the kinds of pet clinics where the average person encounters veterinarians. Some of the highest paying veterinarian jobs are in these lesser-known specialties doing research and working for large companies.
I believe that if you really enjoy what you do you will be successful in your career and in life. I love helping animals and have enjoyed being a veterinarian and the process of building and managing my practice. It has been a fulfilling and financially rewarding career for me where everyday I learn something new. It gives me a lot of personal satisfaction knowing I am helping improve the lives of the animals that are my patients; animals that are often close companions to the people who trust me with their care.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics for Veterinarians
The BLS reports that veterinarians earned a median salary of $87,590 in 2014.
The BLS reports that veterinarians earned a median salary of $87,590 in 2014.
The BLS reports that veterinarians earned a median salary of $87,590 in 2014.
Percentile wage estimates for this occupation:
|Annual Wage (2)||$52,530||$68,860||$87,590||$115,310||$157,390|
Median Wages Vary by State.
New Jersey $120,240
New York $118,950
Florida $ 95,470
New Mexico $ 78,040
See the Bureau’s Detailed Maps for Wages and Employment by State: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291131.htm
YPNG Editor’s Note: These wage statistics are for veterinarians who work for a salary. Those who run successful clinics and hospitals earn about twice the median wage as noted in Dr. Danner’s article.
Hi i wanted to ask you if it would be okay if i interview you for the YPNG’s mentor interview contest. I need to be able to interview someone so i can qualify for the contest and i was thinking since i love animals so much why no interview someone that works with animals and interview them. If you don’t mind i would like to interview you. If you want just email me at email@example.com and we can work out a time and i message you questions.