You’ll find in this profession you get to check your ego quite often,” says Ben Schroeder, DVM, Cedar County Veterinary Services, Hartington, Neb. But that can be a good thing.
Schroeder should know; he’s been in the veterinary profession all of his life with his father, John Schroeder, DVM, who practiced before him, and now his wife Erin Schroeder, DVM, practices with him in this northeast Nebraska town of 1,500.
The Schroeders have been at the Hartington practice since 2004. It evolved from three locations in Nebraska, to one location in Nebraska and one in Vermillion, S.D., and from two employees to 14.
Both Kansas State University veterinary school graduates, Erin Schroeder is 50% equine and 50% small animal, while Ben Schroeder is 75% bovine, 20% equine and 5% small animal.
Kristina Hubbard, DVM, a recent Iowa State University graduate, handles the Vermillion practice which is small-animal only.
The practice’s bovine clients both in Nebraska and South Dakota are 60-70% cow-calf with herd sizes from 25 to 500 head, and feedlots (500-10,000 head) make up the rest. The area used to be predominately dairy, but now there’s only about 10-15 dairies from 50-300 cows around. The practice has a small area for haul-in, but the bovine portion is close to 100% ambulatory, Ben Schroeder says, often putting to use a portable chute he hauls with him to help clients work cattle.
He notes that for the clients in his practice it’s not so much about the sheer number of animals as it is taking care of individual producers and individual animals. “It means a little bit more to these producers in our area,” he says. “They would rather you do a little blood work and get a diagnosis. Our feedlots are buying good program cattle and doing it the right way, but when they have problems they will use diagnostics quite heavily.”
He says over the last 10 years the purchase of blood machines, X-ray equipment, ultrasound machines and a close relationship with diagnostic labs have set them ahead of some of their competition.
For some veterinarians, coming back home to practice can be good and bad. Ben Schroeder found a wealth of opportunity but says they had to work hard to establish a practice even when it meant doing things he wasn’t always comfortable with. “You have make it work by doing whatever you need to do,” he says.
“That means if you are a large animal vet and you are not comfortable doing some small animal things which you are going to have to do in a rural community sometimes, take the time to learn how and get good at it. If you don’t have the tools, get some of the tools because you will use them. As far as diagnostics and in-house testing it’s important to have some of those tools to do a good job in small animal practice, even in a rural community. Those things can set your clinic apart.”
Being active in the community is also a must. “People expect more out of you as a professional,” Schroeder adds. “If you are humble about it and check your ego they really understand where you are coming from.”
The practice helps with the local fair, horse shows and other events. “Or if we have a client with a son showing at the Charolais national show we are right there to support them.”
The Schroeders are heavily involved in their two sons’ school events and help sponsor school sporting events. “As a progressive business in a small town you need to be supportive to keep your town going, too.”
Find your strengths
The Schroeders are in a situation that has become more common over the years – a husband and wife veterinary team working at the same practice. Even though he does most of the bovine work and she does most of the small animal work, don’t let that fool you into pigeonholing them. Each uses their own skills to help out the other.
When the two go to the American Association of Equine Practitioners meeting, Erin heads to the lameness sessions and Ben sits in on reproduction seminars. “Then we have it all covered,” he says. “You are kind of a two-headed monster when you can split up.”
That comes in handy when a lameness case comes into the clinic. “I will help, but I will basically keep my mouth shut and give support, such as helping with X-rays and exams,” Ben Schroeder says. “Likewise when we are doing an embryo flush on a mare, Erin is right there and knows exactly what to do, but I’m the doctor in charge of that procedure. It works best if you have just one cook running the kitchen rather than two.”
Ben and Erin like different things. “She loves doing surgery on horses, cattle and small animals,” he says. “She would rather never preg check a cow or castrate a bull, but at some things she’s better, faster and more efficient than I am. If there is a C-section needed on a feedlot heifer, she’ll come with me or do it by herself. We both need to be able to cooperate and help each other.”
Schroeder says that’s when you have to put ego aside and sometimes become the technician. “If there’s a C-section on a dog at 10 p.m. on a Sunday I’m the technician for her, and if there’s a calf to pull on a Saturday night she’s the technician for me. We throw the kids in the truck and we go. That is the cool thing about our job. We can get a 4-door truck, throw the kids in the back and you’re out on a date.”
Building a great staff pays off
Schroeder says building a practice with a good staff is a long way from the way his father practiced – with no staff at all. “We immediately hired two technicians, one for small animal and one for large,” he says. “I believe in technicians. People get used to you bringing them out to help. They appreciate it and they will pay for it when you bring an extra hand.”
Now with four fulltime technicians, Schroeder takes one with him for large animal work, but two others who have been trained in large and small animal work can fill in where needed, and one is dedicated to small animal only. “There are things that I was finding myself doing when I didn’t have a tech at the beginning like organizing the truck, treatment box, keeping inventory current, putting in charges. If I don’t need one that day I’ll leave them at the clinic to clean packs and do all the jobs that need to be done to get caught up such as cleaning out and stocking the truck,” he says.
A valuable use of technicians’ time is recording services and charges. “I’ve heard you can lose $500-$1,000 a month in lost charges by not having all of the charges written down shortly after a call,” Schroeder says. “Helping record the charges is a great help.”
In addition, all of the technicians are cross-trained to interchange with the receptionist, check people in and out, and answer phones.
Schroeder emphasizes that the staff are hand-picked. “We care. Our staff genuinely cares about people and their animals. If you don’t have that come across when someone comes in the door, they won’t come back and they won’t tell their friends about you. If they have that initial good impression and you keep it going, that’s key. Staff that show clients what you want them to show every time is important. We worked really hard to hand-pick a staff that does that for us.”
But having and keeping great staff means being a great manager. “If we have one employee not pulling their own weight, another will find out why and will try to get it figured out,” note Schroeder. “We don’t sit on problems. Erin is a testament to that. If there is an issue it’s brought up that second and it’s not sat on and wondered about for three days.”
Schroeder says that Erin also makes a point to thank the staff for the work they’ve done every day before everyone goes home.
CE with a plan
The Schroeders believe in good continuing education opportunities. Because of his equine embryo transfer work, Schroeder is a member of the Society for Theriogenology as well as the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association. He says he will typically take in small animal CE at least every other year to stay current on techniques and therapies.
To help manage his business, Schroeder also participated in some practice management CE provided by Pfizer Animal Health that dealt with leadership, business, marketing and employee management.
The veterinarians at the practice aren’t the only ones who get CE. The Schroeders believe it’s important to keep their technicians’ skills updated as well and have sent all four of their technicians to different CE meetings at Iowa State and Kansas State to keep certifications current.
When Schroeder first started in the practice, his clients were not trained on Beef Quality Assurance principles and were giving injections just about anywhere. Schroeder became a BQA trainer and says there is no more of that. “If I see that on an operation, it’s not good, but I really don’t see that anymore. I have necropsied enough animals to show them what residues and injection abscesses look like, so it’s really rare to see that now. BQA is doing its job.”
Schroeder says certain clients may use a hotshot more than he likes, but many of them do not have good working facilities. “The bigger the operation the better their facilities tend to be.” To help smaller clients, he hauls his portable chute to quite a few places, but says it’s a lot less often than he used to because many of his clients have invested in better working facilities.
The focus of Schroeder’s bovine practice is getting his clients well-educated as far as immunology and getting calves to be the end product of a good program. He enrolls a lot of calves in a preconditioning program and believes to make good program cattle you have to start at Day 1 from birth. Schroeder does a lot of producer meetings and lets his clients know that he is there to teach them, not do their work for them. “Most of the time I’m not out at their place giving the shots and doing the work. I try hard to give them as much information as I can.”
A lot of Schroeder’s producers still sell at auction markets, and he encourages them to have those certificates of vaccination from his clinic or from a company’s preconditioning program. “I tell them to wave that thing like an American flag in the sale barn and be proud you did it,” he explains. “A lot of producers don’t know how to market that piece of information that goes with their cattle. We are not tooting our own horn enough that these calves are vaccinated. I tell my producers that the national average for preconditioned calves was up in the $60 range more than for calves that weren’t.”
Following the drought, Schroeder sees some health and management issues looming. “I can almost predict we will have calves go from corn silage pile to corn silage pile and from backgrounder to backgrounder. I’ve already done some preg checks were we’ve had 30% open. If they didn’t get bred on the first cycles when it was cool, many did not get bred in the heat.”
He says every health condition this fall will be exaggerated. “Pneumonias are happening faster – they are up one minute eating and next day are dead because there’s been so much stress on the calf. Cows walking around kicking up dust storms and calves are right behind them. I’ve been giving a lot of doses of intranasal vaccine and when I pick up the nose it’s just full of dirt.”
Getting calves well-vaccinated early will be the key this year, Schroeder notes. Deworming will be huge as well. “I’ve done a few fecals on thin cows and they are loaded.”
Opening a satellite practice
The Schroeders were getting a lot of business from Vermillion, about 30 miles north across the South Dakota border, and decided to open a practice there, which they’ve now had for about a year and a half. They opted to not buy another practice there because they wanted the new practice to be associated with their name. One potential location had a better set up but was off the beaten path. The site they chose is right on a busy main street with high visibility, in an unusual-looking A-frame building that had been a city council office.
Though they didn’t spend a lot of effort on a feasibility study, Schroeder says they had a pretty good idea the practice would take off and focused their efforts on advertising, eye-catching signs as well as word-of-mouth recommendations. “The location has helped us more than anything,” he says. “I often wonder when a new clinic picks a spot off of the beaten path that no one can see.”
Schroeder says there has to be a need for you in that area and you have to go to a place with a population base to support it. “You know you have a clinic and staff that really cares, but if you only have five customers a day it won’t work.”
Initial renovations were done to see how the practice would go for the next six months. Erin Schroeder worked at the practice five days a week, and Ben took care of the small and large animal clients back in Hartington. In the first six months it was so busy they decided to hire another veterinarian.
From his experience with a couple associate veterinarians, Schroeder says a working interview of at least two weeks is now mandatory at the practice (see sidebar). “And still you might not know all the ins and outs of a person. You have to have the same goals in mind, and you need to find out what kind of veterinarian this person wants to be. If they want to truly be a mixed-animal practitioner, it can take a long time to get them accustomed the area, introduced to all of your clients and comfortable.”
Schroeder says in that regard he was lucky because he was a second generation veterinarian and used to ride around with his father. “People knew me. If you are new to the area, you don’t know where people live or what is right or wrong with a hot topic, and you can say the wrong thing without knowing it. It’s tough breaking in a large animal rural practitioner because there are so many more factors involved that just having an exam room with dogs and cats.”
Marketing the new practice also strengthened marketing efforts overall. “Word-of-mouth is still the best thing,” Schroeder says. “You have to get your name out there.” They went on an ambitious marketing scheme that included the local Vermillion paper and radio station. They also tracked where their clients heard about them, and Schroeder says more than half checked the “word-of-mouth” box when asked how they found the clinic.
The practice also has a website and Facebook page. “I am blessed to have a wife who loves multimedia,” Schroeder says. “I don’t think you can have a good Facebook page or website without one of the doctors or one of your key staff maintaining it. It has to be someone enthused about it and who wants to do it.”
The practice sends out notices of activities they will be involved with in the community to keep their Facebook page and website interactive and fresh. These activities have kept Cedar County Veterinary Services top-of-mind with clients across both sides of the state line.
Cedar County Veterinary Services, Hartington, Neb. and Vermillion, S.D. Established in 2004. Three veterinarians, one satellite clinic and 14 total staff.
• Ben Schroeder, DVM
• Erin Schroeder, DVM
• Kristina Hubbard, DVM
Mission Statement: Our goal is to provide high quality veterinary services in a personable and accommodating manner by focusing on accurate diagnostics, compassionate treatment of animals and client education
Cedar County Veterinary Services is a mixed-animal practice with an additional companion-animal only practice in Vermillion, S.D.
Visit the practice at http://cedarcountyvet.com/ and on Facebook.
No renegade veterinarians
Ben Schroeder, DVM, says hiring new grads with the right attitude can be tough at times, but that both parties need to have similar goals in mind.
“I think eagerness is a good attribute,” he says. “Some people are more eager than others to learn and be a useful tool to your practice, and some are waiting for 5:30 to get here and be done.”
There needs to be an eagerness and willingness to work hard, especially the first couple of years out of school. “Face it, you are the bottom of the totem pole and you need to put in your dues before you have credibility. If you can handle that for a couple of years that is important. After that you need to start reaping the benefits of being a veterinarian.”
Schroeder says it’s also important for both sides to be honest and cut their losses when it’s not working out. “If you have been in a practice a couple of months and it isn’t what you thought it was going to be, have a serious talk with the owner. After a little while it’s not better, don’t waste a whole year. Get out and go find where you will fit in.”
He offers the same advice to the practice owner. “If it’s not right or the person should be doing better, let them know right away. You don’t want to sit on an issue or it turns into a festering mess. Getting along with people and personalities is the biggest thing in veterinary medicine. If you can’t get along with our customers and staff, you are in trouble.
“You are part of a team whether you like it or not,” Schroeder notes. “There are not many renegade veterinarians doing it all alone anymore.”