Can someone who is not a veterinarian own a vet clinic? That’s a hotly debated topic in many American states right now, the question of whether ownership of a veterinary practice should only be allowed for licensed veterinarians or whether anyone should be allowed to own a vet clinic.
While it’s true that a number of states have made it legal to own a veterinary clinic even if you’re not a vet, there are other states that still don’t allow it for various reasons. In short, it’s not a country-wide practice and the rules and regulations can change from state to state. In this article we’ll answer the question; Do You Have to Be a Veterinarian to Own a Vet Clinic?
Why Would a Non-Veterinarian Want to Own a Veterinarian Clinic?
Like any business, a well-run veterinary clinic can be quite profitable, making the Doctor a fair amount of money over time. It’s also an evergreen business as, especially in the United States, millions of people own animals and pets that, from time to time, will need medical help. There will always be a stream of new patients and thus a constant stream of money into the business. Some may wish to own a vet clinic as part of their portfolio of businesses for this reason, while others may simply see it as a viable, profitable business.
Why Would a Veterinarian Want to Sell their practice to a Non-Vet?
This may well be the bigger, more important question, and the answer in most cases is simple; an exit strategy. As with any business there comes a time when a veterinarian who owns his or her own clinic will want to retire, change careers or maybe move to another state. Whatever the reason, they need a strategy in place to be able to do so or they risk walking away from their clinic with nothing to show for their years of hard work and dedication. That’s what is known in the business world as an exit strategy.
So, with an exit strategy in mind, a vet will start looking for someone to purchase their clinic. If, for the sake of example, they aren’t able to find a veterinarian who wants to buy their practice, being able to sell it to someone who isn’t a vet is their next best choice. They may also find an interested, younger vet who might not be financially able to purchase their clinic, and so they would consider selling to someone who can and then putting the new vet to work in their place.
Most veterinarians truly do care for their furry, four-legged patients and thus want to sell their practice to someone who cares as much as they do. If that person just happens to not be a vet then so be it, as long as their clinic is able to continue serving the public.
Why Do Some States Not Allow a Non-Veterinarian to Own a Veterinary Clinic?
The answer to this question, in simple terms, is that the philosophy of caring for patients, even if they are animals, should only be overseen with someone who has studied, and been licensed, to do so. Veterinary Boards, which oversee the rules and regulations of clinics in every U.S. state, fear that a non-veterinarian will make decisions solely based on financial incentives and not based on the well-being of the animals in their charge.
Veterinary boards also worry that, without the proper training, skills and knowledge, poor decisions will be made that negatively affect the animals who are seen at a clinic run by a non-veterinarian. Frankly, it is a concern, since without this training the possibility of a bad decision will be higher, and thus the possibility that an animal will suffer needlessly.
One of the methods of navigating these concerns is to ensure that the veterinarian and non-veterinarian develop a set of rules that help determine what is and isn’t a medical decision and who will make the call. The fact is, even if a vet clinic is owned and run by someone who isn’t a trained and licensed veterinarian, there will always be someone on staff who is and does have the skills needed to treat the animal patients. For this reason, the rules must be clear but, in many states, they still are not.
Muddying the waters even further is the fact that while in some states the laws aren’t as clear cut, in others the laws aren’t enforced as well as they should be. In both cases, the veterinarian selling their clinic and the non-veterinarian looking to purchase should both perform their due-diligence to find the best solution.
What are the Legal Ramifications of a Non-Veterinarian owning a Veterinary Clinic?
If you are a non-vet and purchase a clinic in one of the 15 or so states that allow it, owning a veterinary clinic comes with far fewer legal ramifications (besides the normal ones that come with owning any business, of course). In the other 35 states, there will be a bigger legal risk to owning a vet clinic as a non-vet, including fines, jail time and, in extreme cases, a criminal record.
Some states also require that, when a veterinary practice is sold by an owner who is not a vet, a large chunk of the profits made must be given to that state’s veterinary corporation. If you are contemplating purchasing a vet clinic in one of those states then you should be aware of this fact and take it into consideration before you make a purchase decision.
In short, before you purchase a veterinary clinic as a non-veterinarian, you definitely should do your due diligence to find out what, if any, are the legal ramifications of such a purchase. This must include both the results at the time of purchase and, down the road, any reverberations you’ll face when you go to sell the clinic and retire yourself.
When Is It a Good Idea to Sell a Veterinary Clinic to a Non-Veterinarian?
Like any business, there are usually several people who help to keep the typical veterinary practice running smoothly and profitably. Those include the veterinarian, of course, as well as any assistants and technicians they might have on staff. A well-run veterinary clinic will almost always have a practice management specialist on staff as well, someone who has financial and bookkeeping skills and gives the vet financial advice.
These highly trained individuals are well-equipped to run a veterinary clinic and, in the instances where they wish to purchase the clinic either from the vet they’ve worked for or another, would likely make an excellent veterinary clinic owner.
Unfortunately, in states where non-veterinarians are not allowed to own a veterinary clinic, these highly-trained, skilled and experienced professionals are not able to take their career to the next level as owners. Also, this can, and does, have the effect of pushing good people out of the profession altogether, including those who are highly dedicated to animal welfare.
Veterinarians Who Run their Clinic with their Spouse
In many instances, a married couple will own and run a veterinary clinic together, with one being the licensed veterinarian who runs the clinic and the other, non-vet managing the business. In a scenario such as this, if the veterinarian spouse were to suddenly pass away, the non-vet spouse would most likely want to continue running the practice in order to keep generating much-needed income.
In states where a non-vet is not allowed to own a veterinary clinic, this would create a very real hardship for the surviving spouse, forcing them to sell the clinic in desperation which is never a good situation.
Does an Option Exist to Own a Vet Clinic in States where Non-Vets Can’t be Owners?
There are only a few options available that allow non-veterinarians to own veterinary clinics in states where it is prohibited and still adhere to the laws of that state. These options uphold the integrity of the practice while allowing for a non-vet to be the owner but, as with any business decision, should be well-researched before any action is taken. The best of these options is below.
Creating 2 LLCs
An LLC or Limited Liability Corporation can be established for both the veterinarian side of the practice and the business management side of the practice, with the non-veterinarian being the owner of the latter.
With this option the veterinarian or technician would be in charge of, for example, determining tests, examining patients and dealing with the owners of any animals brought into the clinic for care. The non-veterinarian would be in charge of the business itself, including hiring, firing, marketing, bookkeeping and other tasks that the veterinarian would usually hand-off to their practice manager or another employee.
In order for this arrangement to work and work well the specifics would need to be fully laid-out, with responsibilities and duties for both sides made very clear. That includes designating a licensed veterinarian in your particular state as the managing veterinarian, with all veterinary decisions being made by them. Legal help would be highly suggested when setting up this option.
Which U.S. States Have Regulations about Owning a Veterinary Clinic?
As we’ve already mentioned, veterinary clinics are regulated by the specific state where they are in practice. As of 2020, the majority of states do not allow a non-veterinarian to own a veterinary clinic outright but, as the rules and regulations are changing constantly, it’s always a good idea to go directly to the state veterinary board and ask them yourself.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 35 states have specific regulations that say how veterinary clinics must be run and who the owner of that clinic can be.
Those states, in alphabetical order, include;
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Washington D.C.
- West Virginia
This is not to say that these states either prohibit or allow non-veterinarians to own a veterinary clinic, just that they have specific rules and regulations that are in place. Again, checking with the state veterinary board is your best option to find out the specifics before you start making any decisions.
The former assistant director of state relations at the AVMA is a man named Adrian Hochstadt and he offers some very sound advice for anyone wanting to purchase a veterinary clinic who is not a vet. He admits that “There are so many grey areas,” and goes on to say that “You must check each state’s laws and even then you better confirm with a licensed attorney”. That statement pretty much sums up everything we’ve already talked about.
The desire to own a veterinary clinic can be very high for astute business people and, of course, for animal lovers and those who wish to protect animals from harm. As with anything related to the medical field the regulations and rules regarding who can own a veterinary clinic are sometimes murky and difficult to understand. In some states it’s totally acceptable, in others it’s tolerated and, in a certain few, owning a veterinary clinic is almost impossible for someone who is not a veterinarian.
If you are contemplating the purchase of a veterinary clinic, for whatever reason, seeking sound legal advice in the state where you wish to purchase is always your best bet and should be your first task. The last thing you want is to make plans, get loans and make connections just to be deterred from your goal at the end.
Like a prospective client looking for a good vet to take care of their sick animal, do your due diligence, search the internet, make calls and be persistent in finding answers.
We hope you enjoyed this article and that it answered your most pressing questions. If you have more or would like to leave a comment, please do so in the space provided, and best of luck with your plans!