October 6, 2014

From pet project to successful vet practice

After co-founding the first privately run specialist veterinary practice in Sydney, Dr Sarah Goldsmid swam against the tide of the GFC and expanded her business. A finalist in last year’s Telstra Business Women’s Awards, she explains how a passion for surgery continues to drive her success.

When Dr Sarah Goldsmid co-founded the Animal Referral Hospital in 1999 it was the first of its kind in Sydney. She discusses the challenges, risks and the passion for surgery that lie behind her success.

It wasn’t until she was filling in her application for university that Dr Sarah Goldsmid decided to become a vet. But since then, she’s gone on to blaze a trail in her field.

Goldsmid completed a residency in Small Animal Surgery and a Master’s degree at the University of Sydney at a time when the concept of surgical specialisation was very new. In fact, she was only the second surgical resident to go through the University of Sydney’s Vet School.

Then, when she and two fellow specialists opened the Animal Referral Hospital in 1999, it was the first privately run multidisciplinary specialist practice in Sydney. The practice, which now employs 120 people, operates from two sites with a third due to open soon. “We aim to become much bigger over the next three years,” she says.

Calculated risks

In building their business, Dr Goldsmid says she and her colleagues have made, and learnt from, many mistakes along the way. They’ve also taken calculated risks – most notably their decision to move from their original site to one that’s over four times the size in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis.

“Our huge state-of-the-art, purpose built fit-out included the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine in New South Wales, which alone cost a quarter of a million dollars,” she says. “Financially, we put everything on the line to get the business where it is and we’re just about to start seeing a return on that investment.”

Expansion was an especially bold move. Back then, pet owners had very different expectations. “These days they’re much more aware that specialist services are available, thanks in part to TV shows like Animal Hospital and Bondi Vet,” says Dr Goldsmid. “They know to ask about things like spinal surgery, total hip replacement or chemotherapy for their pet. Ten years ago, most people would have laughed at the idea. But we were confident things would change.”

A female skew

Being proud of their daughter’s achievements, Dr Goldsmid’s parents nominated her for the 2013 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Awards, where she reached the finals. “I was thrilled to be recognised for what I’ve achieved and to be in the company of some truly amazing women,” she remembers.

Dr Goldsmid graduated in 1986 in the heart of a significant trend. “Mine was the first year where women made up half of the graduates,” she says. “Today, the figure is generally around 75 to 80 percent and it has been as high as 90 percent. I’m not sure why veterinary science has become so skewed towards females, though I have a theory that it has something to do with the pay. A vet in a standard practice makes significantly less than professionals in other fields that require a five-year degree and I wonder whether men are less likely to see it as a good career, particularly as there’s now very stiff competition for jobs. Three new vet schools have opened recently and, overall, Australia is producing something like 400 surplus graduates a year.”

While Dr Goldsmid has become adept at managing the business side of the practice, she’s very glad she made that last minute decision to become a vet. “Surgery is my passion,” she says. “It’s very easy to come to work when you love what you do.”

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