Profiles in Leadership is a monthly feature that provides insight into the bright minds of leaders in the global veterinary healthcare community.
Tracy Dowdy, CVPM is the founder of the Relationship Centered Practice® Academy and the managing director of MRG Consulting in San Diego, California. Tracy has been helping veterinarians and their teams operate successful practices for more than 20 years. With a portfolio of experience that includes being the daughter of a veterinarian and managing and owning multiple practices, Tracy’s philosophy is unique and her results are proven. She has worked with hundreds of practices nationwide in the areas of strategic planning, developing systems, operational workflow, client service training, staff training, financial growth, leadership coaching, and many others.
Tracy is a certified veterinary practice manager. She is a charter member and past president of VetPartners, and she currently serves as an editorial advisory board member of Veterinarian’s Money Digest®.
NAVC’s VetFolio is partnering with Tracy and the Relationship Centered Practice® to give VetFolio users free access to her video series, the precursor to her online course, the Relationship Centered Practice® Academy. The videos are short and packed with helpful tidbits to get practice owners moving in the right direction so they can stop working themselves to death and start realizing true success and freedom.
NAVC: Through VetFolio, we’re delighted to offer your breakthrough ideas on how to prevent burnout and reduce stress for veterinary professionals. Practice owners tell us the fear that comes with the territory on the road to becoming successful. Others assume they can’t afford to hire a professional consultant for help. Your videos share a practical, strategic framework that is essential to owning, operating, and working in a successful veterinary practice…at no charge! Please give us an overview about your approach and the best way to get started.
Tracy: It is an exciting and challenging time in our profession. There are so many great opportunities for everyone working in veterinary medicine. Since the human-animal bond is changing, and many pet owners see their pets as members of the family, we can make a difference in the lives of pets and their people. We get to treat pets with a high level of medical care so they live longer and healthier lives, which also improves the health and happiness of people! Not every person in the world can say they have a career where they are making a difference like this every day.
On the flip side, our profession is also facing many challenges, such as the increase of pet owner expectations, increase in the competition, corporate consolidation, advanced technology, student loan debt, and work-life balance issues. I know most practice owners, veterinarians, managers, and their teams want to work in thriving, high-performing hospitals. I believe my Relationship Centered Practice® Academy online program is a simple solution to help veterinarians and their teams navigate their way through these opportunities and challenges in an intentional way that will bring true success to everyone. My free video series introduces veterinary professionals to the Relationship Centered Practice Academy, a comprehensive framework for veterinary professionals to create and optimize a thriving, profitable practice that is centered on the relationships it has with its clients, patients, and team. The Relationship Centered Practice framework consists of the following five components, which are essential to practice success:
- Identifying a compelling vision and strategic plan
- Building a self-reliant team
- Setting standards
- Creating systems
- Managing your practice with metrics
Over the last two decades, I have seen some incredible results with practices that have implemented this framework. They increased revenue; improved client retention and community reputation; provided a higher level of patient care; increased client compliance; improved operational efficiency, practice culture, and employee engagement; as well as increased their profitability and the value of their practices. My program teaches veterinary professionals the steps that others have taken to reach the next level of success. My hope is that every practice owner, leader, and manager has the knowledge, training, and tools to take their practice to the next level, where they are working smarter not harder. Where they have more free time and money. Where they experience less stress and increased job and personal satisfaction.
The best way to get started is become a member of my program.
NAVC: What’s the number one problem that prevents veterinary practices from being successful? Give us some examples of direct advantages of a practice being transformed from doctor-centered to relationship-centered.
Tracy: I believe the number one problem that prevents veterinary practices from being successful is that they do not have a strong business plan and operational model to adopt and follow the path of profitability and success. Many veterinarians and practice owners are stressed out, burned out, and feel as if they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Many are wearing the hat of practice owner, manager, bookkeeper, doctor, trainer, janitor, therapist, and parent. They feel overwhelmed with all the decisions they need to make in their business and are scrambling to find all the solutions to their problems and the problems of their clients and staff. Often, veterinarians find themselves micromanaging every task and action being performed by their team members, and, because these veterinarians believe there are few people they can rely on, they are working themselves to death trying to get the job done right.
In veterinarian-centered practices, veterinarians deliver their knowledge in a one-on-one situation, and it limits the practice’s capacity to grow and serve clients and patients effectively. Traditionally, illness and injury have dominated veterinary medicine and have been the focus of most veterinary–client interactions. Today, a new model of service delivery needs to evolve. Society demands human-level care for pets, but our profession is not efficient or robust enough to fill this need. A trained paraprofessional team member should be able to properly explain the wellness, behavior, and husbandry issues to a client. Once one conceptually understands that the capacity for building relationships and providing excellent service is not the same as the capacity for medicine, and that enabling non-doctors to communicate with clients will create emotional and financial wealth, the problem becomes less daunting to change.
The components of the Relationship Centered Practice will pave the way for veterinarians and teams to create and optimize a thriving, profitable practice that is centered on the relationships it has with its clients, patients, and each other. When practices develop a culture of serving people, they will stand out from their competitors. A practice owner’s life and business can have significant potential if they embrace the Relationship Centered Practice framework. Others would be less dependent on them and other key stakeholders in the practice, and they would be free to focus on the things they love and are passionate about. Their practice would become systems-dependent (rather than owner-dependent), grow in revenue and profits, and would ultimately become more valuable. Most importantly, the people and pets their practice serves would be better for it. They would feel proud of what they had accomplished, and they would know their practice is the best it can be.
NAVC: Help us understand the passion that has driven your desire to do this important work. What part did your experience in having been a practice owner and a practice manager play in knowing the compelling need for this kind of guidance? And we know your dad was a veterinarian, so tell us about how that influenced you.
Tracy: Like most leaders, I have a passion to empower others. I want to help them grow their leadership skills and thrive as leaders. After practicing medicine for 20 years, my father was struggling with a practice that he had purchased. During a family brunch one Sunday, my dad and I agreed that I would leave my corporate job and join him as his practice manager. I was so excited to be part of the family business, and I became a student of veterinary practice management. Within three years of leading and managing my father’s practice, we tripled the practice’s revenue and built an award-winning facility. I helped my father and our team understand that building relationships and meeting the needs of clients are essential to building and maintaining a successful and profitable business. Through this experience, I realized there were many other veterinarians like my father who desperately needed help to take their practices to the next level of success. So, I started my own consulting business about 20 years ago, and I have had the wonderful fortune to work with hundreds of veterinarians and their teams all over the country. Now, I have a significant amount of passion to empower female veterinarians to develop their leadership skills and become practice owners.
NAVC: You were a charter member of VetPartners and served as its president in 2016. What did you learn about leadership from this volunteer experience? What advice do you have for others who may be assuming an important role in governance of a nonprofit association?
Tracy: Having been a charter member of VetPartners and serving in a leadership capacity since its inception, I have received invaluable knowledge and skills from some of the most influential people in our profession. I would advise someone who might be interested in assuming an important role to focus on being a good listener. First, seek to understand the knowledge of other leaders serving alongside you, and then identify what knowledge and skills you can contribute to the group that will make a difference. Always have the confidence to speak up for what you believe in and are passionate about.
NAVC: How would you describe yourself? What about you gave you comfort that starting MRG as an entrepreneur was going to work out okay? Has being a leader always been part of your DNA? Give us some examples.
Tracy: When I was a little girl, instead of playing “house” with my dolls, I loved playing “important business lady” with my dad’s old briefcase, some junk mail my mother gave me, and my pretend phone. I would sit in my room for hours pretending to conduct important work.
Fast forward to about a year ago, when I attended a personal development conference. Another attendee of the conference asked me about my spirit animal. I had no idea what a “spirit animal” was, but I said the first thing that came to my mind, which was “jaguar.” Later, I learned that those who have the jaguar as their spirit animal are passionate, confident, and possess a deeper understanding of life. Often able to embrace change with grace and dignity, those with this feline spirit animal as their guide tend to be creative, see the bigger picture more easily, and allow their intuition to guide them without hesitation. So, I would describe myself as a jaguar.
While I think some people are born leaders, I have been a student of leadership for most of my adult life. Early in my career, I realized I wanted it all. I wanted to be a wife, a mother, and a career professional who was in charge of her destiny. I wanted to work smarter, not harder. In order to achieve my goals, I had to be willing to put myself out there, take risks, and have faith in my abilities to achieve greatness. I have made some big mistakes along the way, but I believe those mistakes have made me who I am today. Success is about failing forward, and every misstep has been a learning opportunity for me.
NAVC: You do a lot of writing for publications and speaking at professional conferences. That takes time away from the Academy, from MRG, your consulting company, and from your personal life. How does it all fit together to justify the investment of your time and talent? And we’d love to know your time management tips that contribute to your staying sane with an intensely demanding schedule.
Tracy: While attending high school, I also attended college and worked part time at architectural firm. A fast pace has been typical for most of my life. I am a high achiever, and I’ve never had a problem multitasking as a small business entrepreneur with a family and other hobbies. At times, however, my greatest asset has also been my greatest weakness. Balancing my time has not always been easy and it is something I have been intentionally working to improve over the last few years. While I have many distractions and opportunities that come my way, I have clarity on how to prioritize my time and where I place my attention. For example, each day I plan my work before doing the work with a daily productivity worksheet. This worksheet helps me stay focused on the projects that will help me achieve my long-term goals as well as the daily tasks that need to get accomplished. If it’s not on the worksheet, it doesn’t get my attention. Let’s face it, our email inbox and smart phones are just ways for other people to make us part of their agenda. I have learned to create my own agenda and to not feel guilty about it.
NAVC: What do you do for fun? Tell us about your pets.
Tracy: I love learning about other cultures and cuisine. Currently, I am living in Baja California, Mexico, in a small beach community about 30 minutes south of the U.S. border. We live on the Pacific, and it has been thrilling to learn how to paddle board and surf in the big ocean!
My two cats, Mutt and Jeff, love living in Baja, too. Like me, they enjoy bird watching, sun bathing, and sleeping to the sound of the ocean.
NAVC: What are you looking forward to becoming, learning, or doing?
Tracy: Como paso mucho tiempo en México, estoy aprendiendo a hablar español.
(Translation: Since I am spending a lot of time in Mexico, I am learning to speak Spanish.)
Also, I am looking forward to helping practices transform from doctor-centered practices to relationship-centered practices. I want to be the go-to person for women in this profession who want to be mentored as leaders and as practice owners. I want to inspire women.
NAVC: What would most people be surprised to know about you?
Tracy: There’s a lot more to me than my work as a veterinary consultant. I love dancing and singing to disco music. A few of my most played songs are “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band, “I Love the Nightlife” by Alicia Bridges, and “Funkytown” by Disco Gold. I also have attention deficit disorder. That means I get bored quickly, so I embrace change and take risks, which usually works out in my favor. It also means that writing and managing details can be a challenge for me. At the end of a long, stressful day of work, I love to get creative in the kitchen (and eat my spicy creations!).