After working at almost 20 animal hospitals, in 2014 Dustin Zimmer, DVM (RUSVM ’00) bought a practice with his wife, Jacquelyn Chow, DVM. Together, the two run the BEEVET Animal Hospital in Austin, Texas.
We chatted with Dr. Zimmer about the life of a practice owner, why you might catch a whiff of lavender in the clinic, and the inspiration behind the BEEVET name. (Spoiler alert: It’s not because they specialize in bees.)
RUSVM: What’s the best part about owning a practice?
Dr. Zimmer: The job itself is the reward. You set your own goals and it’s up to you to stick to them—you’re not relying on someone else. You create the environment that you want to work in, and your quality of life improves because of it. And if something’s not working, we can change it. I love owning a practice—it’s the best decision I’ve made.
What are some ways that you build a positive environment?
We do a lot of team-building activities to help keep everyone comfortable with each other, especially since it’s a large hospital with a big staff. When there’s a sense of team and your staff work well together, the flow of the hospital is almost effortless. We’re also working on our Fear Freesm certification, a program that focuses on removing anxiety triggers to create a better experience for the pets and everyone involved in a veterinary visit.
To help make pets more relaxed, we use calming smells like lavender, playing soothing music, using minimal restraint, and going slower with them during exams so they feel more comfortable. These kinds of things take a little more time, but the end result is that the client and pet feel valued. The pet goes home and their tail is wagging rather than tucked between their legs.
How else do you make your practice stand out?
Since we bought the practice, we’ve upgraded so much of the technology. We offer almost everything that a specialty hospital does—digital and dental X-rays, in-house laboratory, full chemistry, and complete blood count (CBC) machines, and acupuncture. We also have mobile surgeons who come to the hospital, including an ophthalmologist, a radiologist, and cardiologist, so clients don’t have to go to a bunch of clinics for their pets’ various needs.
It’s been a lot of work, but it’s all worth it. In three years we’ve doubled our revenue, brought on a third associate, and passed our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) certification. We also changed the name from Caring Hands Animal Hospital to BEEVET after the area of Austin we live in, which is called Bee Cave.
What’s the biggest challenge for you?
Owning a practice is a lot of responsibility, and the financial aspect takes up more of your time. But when I have questions about business or want advice on an unusual case, I reach out through the RUSVM alumni Facebook group. As a vet, you’re always looking for answers, and usually, someone out there has seen it.
You’ve worked at a lot of animal hospitals. What were some milestones in your career?
I gained a lot of experience early on in my career. I’m originally from California, and my first “real job” out of vet school was working the overnight emergency shift at a large San Diego hospital. I was working by myself, getting a lot of stuff I’d never seen before, treating up to 20-30 clients a day. It was a lot at first, but it was a great experience.
After about a year, I transitioned into the day shift and started seeing more typical cases. But the owner of the hospital was a board surgeon, so I was doing 15-20 spays and neuters on my surgery days, which was exciting. I got proficient very quickly in volume so I could handle a lot of surgeries in one day. The job was almost like a miniature residency because I was able to work so closely with the board surgeon.
How’d you get interested in veterinary medicine?
I grew up on a ranch in the hills of Napa Valley wine country. I was raising sheep, chickens, horses, and cows with my family, and every summer I used to go on mobile runs with a vet who lived right down the road. I spent my whole life preparing for this – I didn’t have a backup career!
What was your experience like at RUSVM?
It was one of the best times of my life. Because you’re on an island with just your classmates, you really get a sense of community and form amazing bonds. We’d all get together on holidays and everyone would bring a dish and a bottle of wine. Half my friends that I met in vet school were at my wedding. And now we still get together once or twice a year.
Any advice for RUSVM students?
Vet school is challenging, and the island may not be for everybody. But you get so much opportunity, and you come out more prepared in terms of life experience because you have to do a lot on your own on the island. Since then, everywhere I’ve gone, whether it was a specialty hospital or an emergency clinic, the Ross name is very well respected and has opened doors for me. If you work hard, Ross will always reward you.