Kelly Zeytoonian, DVM, MBA, CERP joins me this week as we discuss everything from contract negotiations to setting boundaries with clients to how to grow your veterinary business. Although it sounds business-focused, my overall takeaway is that in order to stay happy and healthy in veterinary medicine, you need to learn to advocate for yourself. Be sure to check out the free resources she provided to us in the links below!
About Dr. Zeytoonian!
Dr. Kelly Zeytoonian is the owner of Starwood Equine Veterinary Service and Starwood Veterinary Consulting. She earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. Dr. Zeytoonian is a member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and is also on the Board of Directors of The Northern California Association of Equine Practitioners
In 2013, Dr. Zeytoonian established Starwood Equine, an ambulatory practice, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has since grown the business to include five doctors and two locations. As a veterinarian and practice owner, Dr. Zeytoonian experiences the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of both veterinary medicine and business ownership. In addition, as faculty at Foothill Community College, she contributes to the future of the veterinary field by educating RVT candidates.
In an effort to support her practice’s growth without compromising the culture of work-life balance that was its cornerstone, Dr. Zeytoonian earned a Masters in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business in 2020. Now, she uses her combined experience in veterinary medicine and business administration to empower veterinarians to create and maintain a career and practice culture tailored to their individual needs. She has been privileged to collaborate with industry partners and veterinary thought leaders to advance the business acumen of veterinarians.
Contact her here!
Starwood Veterinary Consulting
Starwood Equine Veterinary Services
IG: @starwoodequine and @starwoodconsulting
Exclusive Resources shared by Dr. Zeytoonian:
-Managing Innovation exercise
-Pre-Mortem exercise (see downloadable file HERE)
We love to GO GREEN!
Kelly's favorite sustainable tools/products:
Clean the office using Seventh Generation!
Get yourself some reusable straws!
Stacey's favorite sustainable tools/products:
Recycle anything with TerraCycle!
Plastic-free oral care from Humankind!
Ways to connect with The Whole Veterinarian!
Music Credit: Journey of Hope by Alexander Nakarada
Hey guys, welcome to The Whole Veterinarian. My name is Dr. Stacey Cordivano. And you know we've got some stuff going on in this profession of ours. On this podcast I will speak with outside of the box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day to day life. I want veterinarians to learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for the life that we've created. Now let's get started. Joining me today is Dr. Kelly' Zeytoonian. Kelly is the owner of Star Wars equine veterinary service, a six doctor equine practice in Northern California and star with veterinary consulting. She earned her DVM from the Virginia Maryland regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009 and her MBA from the University of North Carolina's Kenan Flagler School of Business in 2020. Thanks so much for joining me today.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Thanks so much for having me, Stace. It's exciting to be part of this venture.Stacey Cordivano :
I want to start with telling people a little bit about your background because it's definitely been an interesting progression that I've seen you make over the years. So, where was the start of your equine career?Kelly Zeytoonian :
Kind of an exciting story and fun to tell. I thought when I was in school that I was going to be a mixed practice veterinarian who ended up in southwest Virginia, James Herriot style traveling the country side treating all the different species. And that changed for me actually, after an externship that I took out in California. I got out here I think, right towards the end of summer when it was super hot on the east coast and came here it was a dry heat. The sun was shining, it just was absolutely beautiful. And rather than driving an hour each direction to see a Coggins or you know pull blood for something super simple, it was a five minutes space between these huge beautiful training facilities. I don't know something just clicked and I switched my externship schedule for fourth year around a little bit so I could come back out. I applied for internships, was slated to come out here to the Bay area for an internship. And this was right during the 2008/2009 recession, as you might remember.Stacey Cordivano :
Yep.Kelly Zeytoonian :
And about a month before graduation, a practitioner who I had externed with for a week out here actually called and said that an associate was leaving what I like to take the associate position. So I kind of looked at what's the economy going to be doing a year from now? Will I be better off with an internship or am I better off taking this associate position? And I made the call, bit the bullet and turned down the internship in lieu of having this associate position that maybe gave me a little bit more of a safety net because of my worries about the economy at the time.Stacey Cordivano :
Yeah, that's really interesting because when we were graduating, an internship was That's what you did. Everybody wanted one. So that was a big leap of faith that you took.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah. And I think that I hadn't been on that strictly equine path of I have to do an internship. I want to go do these things really, up until halfway through fourth year, I was truly thinking that I was going to end up somewhere in Virginia, kind of working on all of the species and there were jobs available for that particular type of position. So I was a little bit of a late bloomer, I think in realizing that I actually just wanted to work with horses.Stacey Cordivano :
Gotcha. So I know that first associate job went a different direction than you thought it might. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah, getting to the end of the story first, I ended up being fired or having my contract cancelled for that position as I was getting on a plane to Europe for my first vacation in quite a while where I then happened to get engaged. So The end of the story is, it did not end well from the perspective of that associate position, but kind of gave me the push out of the nest to actually start something new. So starting from the beginning of that, I think one of the big mistakes that I made that I think is really something important to say, because we heard it all through school, make sure that you review your employment agreement with a lawyer with a professional, you know, make sure that you have some advice on all of that. I didn't do that. I verbally agreed to the associate position and moved myself and my dog and all of my belongings out to California and got started without actually having a formal agreement in place, which, in hindsight, it would have been helpful to really understand some of the legal-ease that ended up being in the contract.Stacey Cordivano :
it's understandable, right? You're excited about a job?Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah, totally excited. actually having a position when so many people were struggling to find something that really was going to be a good fit.Stacey Cordivano :
I want to put this in reference for people like younger people, because right now there are 300 or so jobs on the AAEP website. And that year, I know that there were three, because that's the year I started my practice. Yeah, there was literally no jobs. I mean, it was the real jobs.Kelly Zeytoonian :
And the one thing that I did listen to in all of those business classes that we took in school, were, you know, send out your resume send a postcard where people can instantly respond back and say, Yes, they're interested. No, they're not. And I had essentially canvassed the East Coast. So to have this position essentially offered to me, I wasn't going to turn it down, despite the fact that I didn't have it as formalized as I would have liked. So Life was good. It started off great. I, you know, worked my tail off. I had that feeling like I needed to prove myself right off the bat. I joined a practice that was all meal veterinarians, when I got out of the truck people were like always looking at me to say, Well, you know, who's this cue technician Who's this young blonde that's here. So there was really this like imposter syndrome of like, what am I doing here? How did I fall into this position? I'm so lucky to have it. So I'm just going to keep my head down and keep working and trying to prove myself and I failed to advocate for myself on a number of components of, you know, mentorship and just generally getting a really good start in my technical skills and that side of things, which I think has been probably part of why my focus now has spent so much on mentorship for the younger associates that have joined my practice. But yeah, I buckled down and I just worried so much about revenue and billing and seeing cases and working on my day off to prove myself and if I didn't have appointments, I started taking on a lot of the sort of business management like website development. Creating new Excel spreadsheets and things like that to make our vaccine clinics more efficient. And basically just some of those behind the scenes components of managing the practice. I felt like I needed to be working in proving my worth the whole time. And it kind of got to the point, after three years, kind of halfway into it, I started to realize, you know, you're doing a lot of work and doing a lot of the business side of things. You know, it's time to get a little skin in the game, and we talked about a path to partnership and that carrot was dangled, but never really came to fruition. All the while, the response I would get was will keep showing me that you can gain your own clients keep showing me that you know, you're invested in the business too. I learned a lot through that process, which is probably what helps me start my business so easily because I was doing a lot of it already.Stacey Cordivano :
I'm sure there was great work life balance going on at the time.Unknown Speaker :
Yeah, no.Stacey Cordivano :
So when did when did the bottom drop out on that associate job?Kelly Zeytoonian :
Probably a year, before I left things started to take a turn. There were some serious changes to the way that he wanted to structure my compensation and looking back on it, the changes that he wanted to make with regard to my production and calculations and things like that were wholly appropriate now that I understand where those calculations come from. But I think the problem that we ran into was his ability to educate and explain to me why the decisions were being made was lacking. And it turned into more of an emotional almost felt like an attack on me like I was responsible for the undoing of the practice or of personal things that he had going on. I felt like the punching bag, things just kept getting worse. The fallout was essentially him trying to renegotiate my contract me actually seeking out that legal advice and review that I should have the first time around. And the counter that I offered, he didn't accept. So he canceled the contract.Stacey Cordivano :
Like you said earlier that happened as you're on a flight for your first vacation and yours. And when you came back, you started your own practice.Kelly Zeytoonian :
I didn't really, embarrassingly, wait until we got back. This is something that I i somewhat regret. You know, Dean has essentially planned to this great vacation to Europe. It was the first time that we were traveling overseas together. I get the Facebook message telling me to check my email from my prior employer and I essentially immediately went to work from Europe. So we kind of made a deal that I'd have, you know, like a couple dedicated hours a day that I was allowed to work on getting the new business up and running.Stacey Cordivano :
You negotiated that with your boyfriend while you're on vacation.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah, boyfriend turned fiance mid vacation. So yeah, I did a decent bit from Europe, got my mom on the phone who was staying at the house. She applied for business licenses and things like that for me while she was here in California, and I essentially launched the Facebook page and launched the website upon my return two weeks later.Stacey Cordivano :
That's somethingKelly Zeytoonian :
It was something at the time, it was sort of tunnel vision. It was just this feeling of what am I going to do? You know, I need to make money. We had in the last year purchased a house I had this mortgage to pay. You know, I have this wonderful partner who obviously is going to support me but I grew up in a very strong female focused family where it's like you're going to carry your own weight and asking for help and needing that help is sometimes hard to accept. So There wasn't going to be any way that I wasn't instantly feeling like I was doing everything that I could to pay my way, I guess yeah to contribute.Stacey Cordivano :
So fast forward a little bit. You now have a six doctor practice with two locations. How did you get from a Facebook page to where you are now?Kelly Zeytoonian :
Hard work? I guess. The short answer is I got there with the help of colleagues and friends and a partner who supported me right from the beginning. And so I was able really to get back to work almost immediately. filled my four runner that I drove out here from Virginia. I filled it with Tupperware hours and the supplies that I needed to start seeing appointments. I borrowed supplies and equipment from a gentleman Dr. Gary Haynes, who is you know, the Sixth Doctor in the practice at this point, and I had wonderful clients who you wanted to move with me and really helped me get up and running. I took a little bit of an alternative approach to hiring, assistance and having help I actually kind of because of finances and also because I felt like it was a great way to have a mutually beneficial relationship. I had students who were pre vet come and work with me and gave them all the experience that they needed. And in exchange, I had essentially free helpStacey Cordivano :
Yeah, that's a great idea.Kelly Zeytoonian :
That really got me up and running. And it's something that I've told people when they're thinking about they can afford to hire a technician full time or something like that. There's people that are looking for the experience and are happy to work for you if it's an opportunity to kind of get them to their next stage. And then slowly but surely, I started hiring people. So my first hire was a registered veterinary technician. The idea behind her was she was actually able to start seeing some of my easy cases: bandage changes, adequan shots, things like that. It got clients used to seeing somebody other than me showing up for appointments and kind of made them a little bit more comfortable with the idea that I wasn't always going to be the person that they would get at the barn.Stacey Cordivano :
Yeah, that's important for a solo practitioner to hear.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah, I shared on call with Dr. Haynes, so that I could have a weekend off a month. That was our exchange. And then I was kind of toying with the idea of like, do I hire an associate Am I ready for that? It was such a big step to take. But I received a letter in the mail much like the letters that I had sent out when I was looking for my first job from Dr. Christy Moding. She was moving to the area, she was looking for a part time position, and had already had a couple years of experience. So the timing and what she was looking for in a position just really made sense for what I felt like I could offer. We were able to share a vehicle. I just took a week day off to give her the truck for the two days that she wanted to work. And it was great for both of us. And I think that that kind of lends itself nicely to a discussion of, you know, alternative work schedules and the ability to offer positions or seek positions that are not this Eight Days a week 24 seven on call, you know, there are ways to do it, where it really doesn't, it didn't cost me any additional equipment or vehicles or things like that. And it gave me a couple days off. Yeah, it also offered Dr. Moding this opportunity to continue working with horses, you know, that's her passion with also working in the small animal clinic and a little bit more flexibility to her schedule.Stacey Cordivano :
Yeah, I think equine vets I think we get a little bit stuck in this full time. 80 hour a week gig and I think it's great for people to start expanding the idea of what an equine vet is because I'm sure there are tons of people out there who would love to work two days a week. And that would help someone who's feeling swamped or is not ready for a second associate or like you said, just needs a day or two off a week. Yeah. So then you eventually purchased Dr. Haynes' practice, correct?Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah. So it was two years in August from purchasing Briarwood Equine, Dr. Haynes, his practice. It sort of happened organically. Even after hiring the additional associates first start with equine, we maintained a relationship we covered emergency for him if you know we had conflicts with all of the Star Wars doctors, he covered emergencies for us. And he also happens to be my next door neighbor. So it all just made sense. And so he approached me about, you know, what it might look like if he wanted to sort of start slowing down and being able to have a little bit more time for himself after 40 plus years of practice as a solo practitioner for a majority of it. And we were able to really work through with the help of Amy Grice who's been on your podcast. With her help, we established the parameters, what it would look like we did a pre mortem, as they were called, which I highly recommend for any time that you're going into sort of a new relationship or new business venture.Stacey Cordivano :
What's the pre mortem?Kelly Zeytoonian :
the pre mortem is basically going through the process of let's talk about all of the terrible ways that this could go wrong, and how we would handle them before they happen. So it was a really nice way to talk about fears that I had going into this purchase agreement, fears that Dr. Haynes had going into it and really work through how each of us would handle it if something like particular situation would arise. So we were prepared for it.Stacey Cordivano :
Just a lot of communication that opens up.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Exactly. It was just sort of a formal way of going through all the what ifsStacey Cordivano :
Got it. That's great. So I was hoping you could talk a little bit about how you decided to get your MBA and what your goals are.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah. So the whole reason for pursuing the MBA was to, you know, make sure that I was educated and making the appropriate business decisions, not only for myself and for the company, but also for the employees that I was taking on. I felt a strong desire need to have their experience be better than what mine was. And so the pursuit of the MBA was my way of sort of investing in the business and investing in myself while also ensuring that I was doing right by the people that joined the Starwood team.Stacey Cordivano :
Gotcha. And what's the goal for the Starwood Veterinary Consulting? What's your hope with that?Kelly Zeytoonian :
I mean, the goal is sort of the same. You know, what I want to do for myself and for my business and employees, I'd love to be able to do for the veterinary industry at large. I think we obviously have a huge problem with work life, balance, and with people leaving the equine industry specifically because they don't want to work 24 seven, they don't want to never be able to turn off their phone or they feel guilty going and enjoying dinner with family and friends without responding to the million text messages and things coming in. And I think that there's a lot of small things that we can do as practitioners that can make a huge difference in our lifestyle and can make it sustainable, especially for the young women that are predominantly entering it. You know, you are giving back in such a beautiful way by having these conversations and reducing the stigma of people feeling frustrated. And so I think my way of doing it, I'm such like a to do list type of person. So if somebody can come to me with a problem, I'm not going to be the one that is like empathizing and saying, you know, I'm so sorry, you're in this position. I'm gonna be like, well, let's come up with a list of exactly what you need to do so that you can move away from this. Yeah.Stacey Cordivano :
And that's perfect. A lot of us respond really well to that.Kelly Zeytoonian :
So that's the goal is just to be available for just a second opinion or an outside resource for people coming to me and saying, this is really what I want my business and my practice and my career to look like, you know, being able to use those resources and my work experience to help them do it.Stacey Cordivano :
Great. So now that you have your MBA, besides the consulting service, are there other ways that you're kind of expanding your career and reach?Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah, one of the exciting things that I've had the opportunity to do is actually go as a guest speaker for a number of different organizations. And what I really loved about that is the ability to in sort of a larger group setting talk about some of those same individual goals of finding work life balance and making practice life a little bit more efficient. It's equally rewarding because I get to hear what other veterinarians in different regions are doing to make their lives easier and Um, it's kind of a cool way to connect with other practitioners. So the speaking engagements I think are super rewarding. And there have been a lot of fun. And hopefully we'll be able to start traveling again and be back to it.Stacey Cordivano :
Yeah. Can you think of like three takeaways that you could give any practitioner that you met three takeaways to improve quality of life?Kelly Zeytoonian :
I think the first takeaway I would say would be, don't be afraid to go out there and get additional help. So many people think that they can't afford to hire somebody to help in the office or you know, to hire a little bit of additional help. You will find work for that individual, or you will give them work that you've been doing and find more time for yourself. So don't hesitate to hire help.Stacey Cordivano :
Yes, I have found that to be very true.Kelly Zeytoonian :
And number two, I would say is don't hesitate to set those boundaries that we've talked about before. It's so important and people worry that you're going to turn off clients have been used to getting you at all hours of the day and night. I think it takes some training, but it's training for yourself first and foremost, and I love the Do Not Disturb function on my cell phone. I also love posting #thedoctorisout on Facebook, or Instagram, because I think it gives me the opportunity to show clients that I have a life outside of being on call for their horse, and I am human too. So I think give yourself that out and that ability and set those boundaries for yourself and for the clients that you work with.Stacey Cordivano :
And I think in my experience, I've learned that you can set those boundaries, you can set them for routine stuff, for someone who doesn't have a backup, but still be available for emergencies. I think sometimes people don't distinguish the two of those things.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Absolutely. And nine times out of 10 the clients are way more understanding of you needing some time for yourself than you are so you can always go back with just a little bit of education to those clients about the reason that you're making those decisions. And then the third one, I think, would be a little bit more on the business side, but is equally important. And that is very small changes in your pricing structure can make your life financially better and also emotionally better. And if there's a particular procedure that you hate doing, charge enough for it, so that it's either worth doing, or people will stop calling you for it. It seems so simple and you've heard it. I know, I'm not the only person to say that, but we've made a couple slight adjustments and everybody has been happier in the clinic with those changes that we've made.Stacey Cordivano :
Yeah, castrations are like that for me. They cost a lot around my practice. Do you think there's any way an associate can affect change like that in their practice, just opening conversation with their boss or something like that?Kelly Zeytoonian :
Absolutely. I try to encourage that. We have this thing at our team meetings where we basically play the game of What's something that we should stop doing? What's something about practice that we should change? And what's something about the practice that we should start doing? So I would encourage anybody, like for yourself, have that conversation and write down the answer to those three questions.Stacey Cordivano :
Yeah, that's a great exercise. I love that.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah. It's a really good run. I mean, we've now that we've started doing that, and we're really open to ideas, basically, any idea will be addressed and whether we end up trying it or not, we at least talk about it and talk about the pros and cons. Even the newest assistants in the clinic that have been with us for less than two months are bringing new ideas and we're trying them out awesome. Some of them are great and some of them bomb but we're at least trying and people feel like they have some ownershipStacey Cordivano :
A voice! Yeah, that's great. Awesome. What would you say is still something that you work on as a boss or person that you're trying to improve on?Kelly Zeytoonian :
I guess it's twofold. I think as a boss, I was laughing when I was listening to Dr. Grice's podcast because I had a very similar 360 multi radar review, which is basically like peers, supervisors, everyone giving you their impressions of how you lead. And my takeaway, if I had to sum it up in two words was Helicopter Boss. So I really tried to be very conscious about making sure that I give all of my employees the resources that they need to succeed, but then step back and allow them to work through problems themselves be a little bit of a safety net, but not be covering which is Very hard as an individual who likes to just get things done, andStacey Cordivano :
well, and you've done all the things for so many years, it's hard to give them up.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yeah, you're giving up your baby, you know, you've done all of these things and made all of these decisions. And when I first started, I was the accountant, the banker, the scheduler, the emergency line answer, I did all of the things. And so I have to remind myself that it is no longer a solo practice. And there are other individuals who have a little bit of different approaches or goals involved. And as long as we're providing that same level of service and expertise to the clients, I have to remind myself to be at peace with it being done a little bit differently than maybe how I would want to do it. Some days are easier than others, but it's a conscious effort. And then I think one of the things that I've really been trying to focus for myself was a promise I think that I made as I was finishing business school was not to pick another project not to pick another degree or benchmark to get to benchmark or something like that my benchmarks were going to be more on my health and lifestyle. This year, I've been trying to really create boundaries with employees and with myself. And when I finish work, the computer gets shut off. I don't check the emails or check what everybody else is up to on the schedule. I go and take my dogs for a hike. And I go and mountain bike with my husband and friends. I really try to do a complete 180 and turn the focus now towards a new kind of benchmark.Stacey Cordivano :
Yeah, I've said it before, but boundaries are hard. A constant battle.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Yep, for sure.Stacey Cordivano :
That's a good segue. I asked all my guests what is one small thing that has brought you joy this past week?Kelly Zeytoonian :
I think for me this week, particularly the hikes that I referred to, with my dogs were especially uplifting because we were evacuated from our house for 10 days, and the smoke and air quality have been terrible. So yesterday was actually the first day where I could go for a run, albeit short, but I could go for a run without a mask on and breathe relatively fresh air. It felt great to be home and it felt great to be able to comfortably be outside.Stacey Cordivano :
That's great. And I am so happy you're back home, and the air is clearing up.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Thank you.Stacey Cordivano :
Thank you so much for spending a little bit of your time with me. I know that your personal time is precious, and I really appreciate the fact that you gave a little bit to me and to my listeners. Where can people find out more about you more about the consulting group?Kelly Zeytoonian :
I'm on LinkedIn, but the consulting group website is starwoodveterinaryconsulting.com.Stacey Cordivano :
Perfect, and I'll make sure to put all those links in the show notes for anybody that wants to get in touch. Thanks, Kelly.Kelly Zeytoonian :
Thank you. Transcribed by https://otter.ai