Pet Practitioners

Surgeons take the plunge into entrepreneurship and become owners of a thriving veterinary clinic

When Paris The chihuahua Took a tumble a few months ago, owner Tracey Brown put her and her daughter’s pet in the car and drove to the nearest veterinary clinic, only to be told the surgery couldn’t be done on the puppy for several days because of the center’s busy schedule.

Luckily, a neighbor had a better solution: Call the Mid-Atlantic Animal Specialty Hospital, otherwise known as the MASH Unit. “I went home and called them immediately,” recalls Brown, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. “At 7:00 the next morning, Paris was being seen by the doctors.”

Paris has since recovered, and Brown credits Huntingtown, Maryland-based MASH with giving her back a dog that can run, jump, and play ball just as well as any canine in the park. “They did an excellent job,” she says. “I couldn’t have taken her to a better place.”

That’s music to the ears of veterinary surgeons Bruce Nwadike and Rodney Oakley, MASH’s co-owners and managing members. Referrals, such as the one given to Brown, helped boost revenues at the 12-employee practice to roughly $1 million, with $1.2 million expected for 2007.

In fact, Nwadike and Oakley are in the midst of a project that will transform the 8,000-square-foot building where their practice is located into a full-service multi-specialty referral veterinary hospital. Once completed, the facility will house a larger rehabilitation center, a swimming pool for canine hydrotherapy, and an expanded intensive care unit.

Driven by their desire to become entrepreneurs, the pair left their faculty surgeon positions and invested $30,000 in a mobile animal surgery clinic in February 2002. Concurrently, they secured a $120,000 term loan backed by the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority and an $80,000 line of credit from a local community bank. They used the funds to build and outfit the firm’s physical location, which opened in July 2002.

“We were two young black men in exactly the same place in our careers,” says Nwadike. “Looking to do something unique, we pooled our energies and came up with the idea to open our own practice.” Serving Maryland’s Tri-County Region, the hospital works by referral only and advertises primarily to local general veterinary practitioners.

Oakley and Nwadike, both 40, are continually discovering the difference between just being great doctors and running a business successfully. While Oakley came to the table with some business experience and entrepreneurial roots, his partner did not. “I’m still a work in progress in that regard,” says Nwadike, who handles the public relations, marketing, and personnel issues, while Oakley deals with the business management and day-to-day operations.

“It’s one of our biggest challenges, and we just keep waking up every day and working at it,” says Oakley, who often turns to friends, family, and local business development offices for help. “Sometimes I question how we do it.” Nwadike and Oakley do it by focusing on their patients and specializing only in small animal orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, surgical oncology, and physical rehabilitation.

Having performed more than 200 tibial plateau leveling osteotomies (surgery for reconstruction or stabilization of

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