The Business of Veterinary Medicine: Lessons Learned, Insights Shared

After graduating magna cum laude from WSU, Dr. Brett Bingham (‘00, DVM) started his career at a mixed animal practice in Idaho. He then moved to Intermountain Pet Hospital in Meridian, where he became a partner in 2007 and full owner in 2017. During the past five years, he expanded his practice to four locations across Treasure Valley. In 2022, he received the IVMA Veterinarian of the Year award and has served as president and president-elect of the organization.

In this interview article, Bingham reflects on his challenges and learning experiences in the veterinary medicine business.

What inspired your interest in veterinary medicine?

I grew up on my father’s dairy farm in Gooding, ID. As a child, I remember watching my father give a bottle of calcium gluconate to a cow with milk fever. The cow was weak and looked like death. After that IV, she got up, started eating, and acted like nothing was wrong. I was impressed by the “magic” of medicine and was inspired to help animals and people.

In what ways did the dairy farm foster your entrepreneurial spirit?

There were years we did really well, and some, where we barely scraped by. So, I considered the ups and downs of business as normal and wasn’t afraid of them. Though it was risky and unpredictable, I felt I had more control over my life as an entrepreneur than if I wasn’t. I learned to save during the good years and prepare for the bad. When they weren’t good, I learned to work hard and be innovative. Perseverance and sacrificing today for a better tomorrow is how it works.

Did you learn business skills and insights from your father?

My father was fiscally prudent. Every purchase was made with intention. He always asked, ‘How long will it take for this equipment to pay for itself?’ or ‘How much revenue will it generate?’ Nothing was purchased because it was new, shiny, or cool. It had to have a purpose to improve efficiency and production. I also learned one can do well perfecting a trade, but true wealth – the ability to help others – requires scaling your business to magnify your service to the community.

Was owning a practice always part of your plans?

Owning a veterinary hospital was my original goal, but I never dreamed I’d have ownership in four hospitals. When I took the job with Dr. Beede in 2001, he agreed to let me become a partner when the time was right. I worked as an associate for six years and was then given the opportunity of partnership. I became a partner in 2007, then full owner in 2017.

What were some of your challenges as a new business owner?

Defining the business’s core values and mission statement proved to be more difficult than I expected. Evaluating my core values and mission statement, then marrying that with the hospital took a lot of introspection and development. You must be authentic because who you are carries over to your business.

Was your business successful from the outset?

In the beginning, there was no money. Eventually, the business became financially rewarding, but I worked for 10 years as an owner before taking home one dollar of profit. We either didn’t have the profit or it needed to be re-invested back into the business. It was discouraging to invest so much with nothing to show for it. It’s like the Giant Timber bamboo. Five years of watering and nurturing, without seeing any change, can be discouraging. Then after five years, the bamboo grows 90 feet in 5 weeks. I feel my business life has been like the Giant Timber bamboo.

As your business has grown, what other challenges have you encountered?

It’s painful when clients complain. Though painful, the feedback helps us improve our business. It’s particularly more difficult when staff leave for a myriad of reasons. When I first became an owner, I thought I knew how to run a business but was quickly humbled. Running the financial side is just one part of it. Developing trusting, thriving relationships with our team was a challenge I hadn’t expected. Over time, I’ve learned to become a better leader, build stronger connections, and let my authentic self lead. Veterinary medicine, especially hospital ownership, is very humbling.

Have you continued to build on the business skills learned early in your life?

I joined the Veterinary Management Group which greatly improved my understanding and potential for business. I learned to lead, analyze, and network for growth and enjoyment.

How has your vision of business ownership evolved?

In the beginning, I believed the purpose of business was to build profit – which it must, or it’s not sustainable. However, I’ve found the most fulfilling part of business is building people. Helping others grow, learn, lead, and do things they never dreamed they could is highly rewarding.

Have you faced unforeseen experiences in your practice?

Right after I became owner of Intermountain Pet Hospital, one of our doctors, Douglas Wick (‘13, DVM) died in a tragic accident. All of our staff and clients loved him. Helping our team and myself grieve and heal over the following months was one of the hardest things I’ve endured professionally. We brought in counselors for our staff, and we prayed and cried together. It still hurts today.

What do you consider the most significant event in your personal life?

Marrying my amazing wife, Julie, was a moment that helped shape the rest of my life. I can attribute almost all my success in life to her counsel and support.

What personal qualities have you cultivated that guide your business practice?

My business is an authentic extension of what I believe and value. The core values we embrace at our hospital are integrity, innovation, communication, and excellence. These core values are what I value personally, thus they extend into my business. I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not just for financial gain. I’m also confident that investing in yourself, your business, family, and professional relationships today, with no immediate reward, will result in long-term gains and a happy, prosperous life.