From business school to veterinarian.
Dr. Michelle Forbes is the founder of Compassionate Care Animal Hospital, which is a Fear-Free certified practice, and an AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accredited hospital, which only 15% of animal hospitals are. She worked as an emergency veterinarian for 12 years prior to opening CCAH as well as founding Spirit’s Legacy Fund in 2015. Dr. Forbes is passionate about caring for patients and clients. She enjoys making a difference in helping patients live their best lives. Outside of veterinary medicine, she shares her life with her husband, three kids, two dogs, two cats, and a variety of wildlife who mostly stay out of the garage.
”“I started Compassionate Care with the one goal of I want these amazing vet professionals to show up at work, love the team, love what they’re doing even though it’s hard. And even though there are challenges, I still want them to walk away feeling like I am part of something really special and amazing and we’re accomplishing really special and amazing things.”Michele ForbesFounder of Compassionate Care Animal Hospital
Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha Group podcast where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.
[00:00:12] Joe: Welcome to the Building While Flying podcast. I’m your host, Joe Quattrone, and today we have a fantastic guest. Dr. Michelle Forbes is the founder of Compassionate Care Animal Hospital, which is a Fear-Free certified.
And a a h a accredited hospital, which only 15% of animal hospitals are. She worked as an emergency veterinarian for 12 years Prior to opening C C A H and founding Spirit’s Legacy Fund in 2015, dr. Forbes is passionate about caring for patients and clients. It is literally what makes her get out of bed each.
She enjoys making a difference in helping patients live their best lives. Outside of veterinary medicine, she shares her life with her husband. Three human kids, a double Merle Australian Shepherd Rescue, a Jack Russell Chihuahua Rescue, who runs the show. Two cats in a variety of wildlife who mostly stay out of the garage.
Dr. Michelle Forbes, welcome to
[00:01:08] Michele: the building World. Hello. Thank you. Thank you very much. I am so excited to be here today, Joe.
[00:01:13] Joe: Oh, we’re excited to have you. And I have a feeling that this is gonna be one of the most provocative podcasts we’ve had in quite some time. Uh, So Oh, thank you.
[00:01:21] Michele: That’s, that’s quite an honor.
[00:01:22] Joe: Yeah, well just kind of doing some research in advance. Uh, It was really eye-opening, just How crazy the state of animal care is out there in especially this, it’s nuts.
[00:01:32] Michele: Yeah, it’s nuts. Yeah. And to be fair, the only thing that I refer to as the us right, there’s a lot going on worldwide, but my numbers and statistics and my, my experience is us.
[00:01:43] Joe: we get into your experience and we get into the statistics, I wanna lead us in with an article that I pulled from npr. It’s about the street vet. Have you heard of Dr. Queen Stewart who’s doing yeoman’s work out there in Los Angeles? A little bit. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. So apparently he’s making the rounds on Skid Row and he’s helping out a lot of people in the encampments.
And I thought, I thought about it a little bit cuz we used, me and my family used to live in Los Angeles and. When I started reading the article and getting into depth about it really thinking through the mental health struggles that homeless people suffer from. Oftentimes they wind up procuring these animals and they become family to them, but they don’t have adequate veterinarian care for these animals.
So I think it’s a little bit of a slice of what I think a larger issue is in society and what we’re seeing. That there is not enough care to go around. There’s a, there’s a shortage of supply. You talk a little bit about that and some of the materials that I’ve read in relation to your practice.
Talk to me about this, this crisis that’s going on in the United States.
[00:02:48] Michele: Absolutely, Joe, and you actually just gave me goosebumps talking about what they’re doing out in California because it’s true. Pets are so important to people, and there’s a whole spectrum, like it doesn’t matter where you come from and what your socioeconomic status is.
you should have a pet in your life, right? This is a big debate and pet care is becoming more and more expensive. It’s harder and harder to access, and it’s, it is a real crisis. So preparing for this podcast actually gave me an even more sobering perspective on what’s happening. So I’ve been nose to the ground doing patient care, day in, day out, sun up to sundown and preparing for this podcast gave me the.
Motivation basically to just take a step back and like crunch some numbers and look at things and it’s, it’s scary. So, Mars recently did a study that showed that we need 41,000 veterinarians to add to our current veterinary pool by the year 2030. At our current rate, we graduate about 3,800 vets a year.
So you can do the math. That’s not gonna happen. It’s not, that doesn’t account for the number of veterinarians leaving the profession for a variety of reasons, and it is estimated that by 2030 75 million pets will be without healthcare, and that does not take into account those who can’t access it because of cost.
Right? So what you’re talking about, and on top of that, what I think is the even larger crisis that many don’t know about and don’t talk about is the credentialed technicians and the receptionists who work and are the scaffolding of everything that we do. They’re the backbone of what we do. We need 131,000 credentialed technicians to join this profession by 2030 to keep going at this pace.
And , we have about a 40% technician turnover rate right now. So the, the numbers are sobering.
[00:04:34] Joe: Is that just because supply and demand these technicians are so in demand they can make more money elsewhere? Why exactly are people turning over? Is it a grind?
Is it too much work? Is the work life balance not great? Like why can’t you guys, staff people?
[00:04:47] Michele: Yes. Like all of them. All of it. All of it. A technician, a credential technician, can make more money. Right now, being a greeter at Meyer or Target, or working as a cashier, not at my hospital. This is something that, this is why I opened my animal hospital in 2015 because I wanted to do it differently.
But. In general, when you look at the whole country, a credentialed technician gets very little respect. They get very little notoriety. You know, we have a lot of clients who I get on the phone with and they say, oh my gosh, thank you so much Dr. Forbes. I really appreciate what you did for my pet.
And I will always stop them and say like, I didn’t do it. You, you gotta thank the staff, the receptionist who took that phone call, the technicians who worked tirelessly around the clock to, to get your pet back and. Those are the people who are the backbone of what we do, but there just isn’t. That drive.
And so a lot of them leave. They can get, make a, like five times more money, if not more, 10 times more money being a human nurse. Mm-hmm. . So we lose a lot to the human medical side and frankly, they can make more money doing just about anything else. And it’s much easier. It’s a, it is a difficult job. So it seems like people
[00:05:58] Joe: are slowing down their, their desire to have pets around the house.
It seems like people are still going out and buying pets at the same. .
[00:06:05] Michele: It’s crazy. So in 1980 there were 83. This is, these are all approximate numbers. The other thing about the veterinary profession and the pet population is it’s really hard to pin down numbers. Right? Right. So you can, anybody can Google this, but.
What we know for the most part is in 1980 there were about 83 million pets in the us. In 2017, there were 183 million pets in the US right? So we went up a hundred million from 1980 to 2017. And approximately 21 million household or people added a pet to their household during Covid. So the numbers are staggering.
And the other piece of this, more
[00:06:45] Joe: pets in this country than there are millennials and 80% of them. Exactly. .
[00:06:50] Michele: That’s wild. Right, right, right. This is the real mind boggling thing. In 2018, vet care was approximately an 18 billion industry, okay? 2018. In 2022, it was a 62 billion industry, and that doesn’t take into account all of the covid numbers, right?
So, This is our modern day gold rush. This is like, we’ve got private equity firms coming in. I was very fortunate to partner with Bank of America. When I opened my clinic in 2015, I called them up. I had nothing. I had a house, right? I had a house and my vet degree. I called them up and they said, yeah, sure, we’ll give you all the money.
You want to open your, animal hospital, and I also have a business degree, right? So, Why would you do this? I don’t really have much to offer you if this doesn’t work. And what they told me at the time, and this was 20 15, 99 0.5% of animal hospitals they invested in, succeeded. And the 5% was death or military service.
So this is a cash business. It’s reliable, it’s a good investment, and it is, it’s a crazy time.
[00:07:55] Joe: that’s crazy. It’s, it’s almost like we need to get some of those TikTok influencers out there to actually run a analysis on how to cash flow a animal hospital business. Just so we can get more people opening them up.
So you talk a little bit about and some of the materials you sent over this idea of the modern animal. What is that and why do you think it’s everything that’s wrong with the current attention? ?
[00:08:19] Michele: All right. I don’t wanna spread hate. So , so there’s a movement. there are two people who have co-founded a new animal.
Basically. animal hospital chains called modern animal. They’re not veterinarians, right? They come from a private equity background. They have, touched the animal industry through Mars and creating a pet tracking device called whistle, which is great. So they come at it from a private equity, corporate business perspective, and I think what happened was they sat down and crunched the same.
Years ago that I just crunched in preparation for this podcast and said, wow, there’s a problem. We need to fix this. The problem is that. Veterinary medicine is really unique. we’re not the bartender and we’re not the hairdresser, but we are a part of people’s family and it’s not just fixing the pet.
It’s having a connection with that family. I mean, I can tell you when one of my family’s daughters has neurosurgery, I can tell you when they got married, when they had their first baby, who their first baby is all that stuff. So we’re very integrated into families. and it’s so varied too because veterinary medicine, we’re doing everything from horses and cows to cats and dogs.
So it’s a really complex profession. And modern animal is taking the perspective of data. We just need to mine the data and get it into a software system, and then we’re gonna use that software system to make everything better. We’re gonna make vets lives better. We’re gonna make the human pet parents experience better, and in the end, animals will get better medical care.
and I think we’re gonna lose What makes veterinary medicine, veterinary medicine? I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s just the way it’s going and we just have to like, are we a horse and buggy right now and we’re just gonna have to drop? What makes veterinary medicine veterinary? Like if there’s a new definition of it.
And that’s really where like, I stay up at night thinking about these things because I don’t wanna be the dinosaur that’s holding onto the horse and buggy saying like, no, no, no, no, no. This is the way we’re gonna do. And at the same time, I’ve bridged this span of veterinary medicine where you know, I’m still close enough to sort of the James Harriet, like all creatures great and small, but I also have all the bells and whistles at my hospital with ultrasound.
And we do ct, you know, like we do all the fun stuff. There’s been a lot of advancement in veterinary medicine, and so it’s hard. It’s hard for me to say like, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t want the data. I don’t wanna do that. Ai, all of that stuff seems like it’s gonna depersonalize veterinary medicine, and at the same time, we have this crisis and we have to get care to animals, so it’s tough.
It’s tough. I personally do not like it because . I don’t really like someone coming in and saying like, let’s fix this for you. I would like that to happen within our industry. A really interesting statistic, Joe, in 2008.
the veterinary population was 50 50 men, women, right? So of all the DVMs out there, all the veterinarians out there, it was about 50 50 men. Women, of all the clinics owned, about 29% of them were owned by women. So that’s 2008. Fast forward to 2019, we’re now approximately in 20 20 19, about 70% women, 30% men.
Guess how many women own practices? 29. You nailed it.
[00:11:23] Joe: Right? So there’s, there’s a little bit of an imbalance here. It seems like maybe males have gone into more of an ownership stake from a business perspective while the female veterinarians have just kind of stayed in the clinician side of things and not necessarily expanded into a business growth perspective.
Well, that’s interesting. You yourself went to business school, you worked at Ford. Tell us a little bit, let’s get back into The origin story a little bit here. Cause I think that’s gonna paint the picture for the audience about where you’re going. When you eventually take over the world You went to business school and eventually somewhere along the line, once you were working in corporate America, you decided, hey, this is not for me. So what happened? How’d that.
[00:12:03] Michele: I was total management track at Ford. Right. , I went to Ross Business School at the University of Michigan.
Great program. And I came from a family where you go to college to get a practical degree and you go out and you know, you do things. . So that’s what I was doing. And I was at a dealership on the south side of Chicago and this little black dog, about three months old, waltzed into the service area. And I scooped him up and took him home.
And that weekend I was actually volunteering with a group of kids who had various backgrounds and we would take them camping on the weekends. And they named him, I had this dog with me, so I was like, all right, I’ll take him on the camping trip. So this group of high school kids named him Spirit. And it just was so profound because he ended up totally changing my life and it was just so amazing that these kids looked at him and said, I think his name is Spirit, right?
So, he got super sick, you know, and anyone out there, anybody listening to this who has rescued a cat or dog, or adopted one knows that like the free dog is usually like the $5,000 dog. Yeah. So he ended up having all kinds of medical issues. And in the process of getting him on track and healing him, I thought, this is super cool.
So I called my family. I was at Ford for about four years and I was, like I said, management track. I had the free car, the whole nine yards, right. Called my family. And I said, yeah, I’m quitting. I’m gonna go work at this. For $7 an hour and I’m just gonna start things over again. And that’s what I did. So I had to do a bunch of pre-reqs.
I went to Northwestern. How
[00:13:31] Joe: the family react to use, were they thrilled about it? You
[00:13:34] Michele: know, amazingly they were, they were pretty supportive of it, which was kind of nuts because it was really, it’s so difficult to get into vet school. It is. Much more difficult to get into vet school than human medical school.
In fact, many people have to apply two and three times. So it was a daunting task to take on and I didn’t have the science prerequisites, like I had to go back and do all of that. My husband has been my biggest supporter and fan through all of this. I don’t think I could have done it without him, but he was super supportive.
My parents were like, yeah, sure. So, you know, my last day at Ford I had to call my husband, like, can you come pick me up? Cause I had to , I had to turn my car in. started doing the animal thing. I was very fortunate to get in the first time, and I haven’t looked.
[00:14:18] Joe: you went and grinded for like 12 years prior to opening C C A H, right?
[00:14:22] Michele: in the foundation. Yes, I
[00:14:23] Joe: did. So, so then 12 years later, you’re, you’re, you’re working your way up, you’re building, you know, building your credibility and your credentials as a veterinarian. You decide to open up your own practice. At that point I would imagine now all of a sudden some of your instincts from business school start to kick in a little bit.
What? What do you think makes you unique when it comes to the world of vets out there whole business degrees and how do you plan on taking that and allowing it to fuel what you wanna do for the next 20 to 30 years? ?
[00:14:54] Michele: Yeah, great question. So I think first and foremost, I am very unique in that I don’t know many veterinarians who have a business background.
So most veterinarians go straight from undergrad, they go to vet school, they hang up a shingle, and they just start seeing animals. That’s what they do because anybody in the veterinary profession, you’re doing it for the pets. You’re not doing it to make money. It’s, this is not a get rich quick process.
And that’s not what I was looking to do either, but I wanted to use my business degree to be able to create an environment with a positive culture. So something that many people on the outside might not know is that there are a lot of toxic environments in the veterinary world. It’s a very toxic environment.
It’s super intense. There’s a lot of emotions it’s a really intense environment that’s very difficult to survive. So in 2015, essentially I was faced with, do I stay in this and create something myself or do I just leave the profession altogether, which is sadly what happens to most people, which is why we are partly in this crisis, People just aren’t happy doing what they’re doing. They love the pets, but they’re not happy showing up and doing it every day. So really, I started compassionate care with the one goal of I want these amazing vet professionals to show up at work, love the team, love what they’re doing, even though it’s hard.
And even though there are challenges, I still want them to walk away feeling like I am a part of something. Special and amazing and we’re accomplishing really special and amazing things. And that was my goal and that’s why I opened it. So I think really coming from the business perspective was I can obviously be very aware and cognizant of, you know, how we make money and making sure that I take care of everybody financially and being fiscally responsible, but more so creating that culture and making sure that we have a growth mindset and that we’re positive and just trying to.
Challenges into opportunities and really just reframing how we approach medicine. And I think that’s partly what the issue is in general, is veterinary medicine is looking outward for people to fix things. Clients need to be nicer to us. pets need to come to us, better behaved, all the things that would make our jobs easier, and in the end we can only control what we do.
So let’s give our team the tools to feel empowered, to feel, special and a part of something. , get it done together. So I think what I do differently is I share everything, right? , when we, when we make money, I don’t take it home. I’m putting it out into the team because they’re the ones who are making this money.
And I’m not saying other people are not doing that. That was just my focus for how I wanted the hospital to be. And then I just really want everyone to feel like they’re a part of something special and unique. And we are, we are accomplishing stuff, how that looks going into the future. . that is the big question, Joe.
That is really the tough one. That is hard because I’m fighting against corporations. When I opened the clinic, 10% of animal hospitals were owned by corporations. It’s now 40%.
[00:17:36] Joe: So it seems like you’ve got a classic like hero, anti-hero story here, right? You’ve got on one. Yeah. Big corporations who are doing everything outside in and they’re looking at it.
a business perspective, how much money can we make? On the other hand, you’ve got this person and Dr. Forbes who is running things the right way that’s built on culture, but also has, you know, a nod towards preservation and making sure that we’re doing things from a veterinarian perspective and for what’s right for the animals.
Is this an idea that you think scales, can you take this and franchise it across America and, and. You know, good vets who can also go out and attract, texts to come over and make better money with you than they could at the big corporate villainous. vets out there ,
[00:18:23] Michele: I am having images of like, cartoon, like DC comics.
[00:18:29] Joe: I was a comic book fan growing up, so I, I like to paint those stories. , .
[00:18:34] Michele: true, it’s true. You know, it’s, that’s the struggle and I think the even bigger struggle is all while I’m trying to figure out how to scale this and is it scalable? Because that is, that is the question. I have 350 patients to get back to in any given week because they all need my care.
And so that’s where I find myself. Do I think it’s scalable. I just got done saying this to a client last night who had a really complicated, we have a very complicated case, and I said, I am not dropping this.
Like, I like to fix problems. That’s why I do this. I like being a diagnostician. I don’t care what it is. I like figuring it out. So I think I am at the forefront of trying to figure this problem out. And I will say that I’m not opposed to saying to the corporations like, Hey, can I learn something from them?
Like I said, I don’t wanna be the horse and buggy like holding onto my horse and buggy saying like, no, no, no, no. This is the way I’m trying to be open-minded. , but I do wanna be the voice for that independent, drive to just be able to do things our own way. I’d like to help other women be in a position of power.
I don’t want female veterinarians to be employees for the rest of their lives. that’s not super satisfying. I don’t know if they want more than that, right? So there’s this, there’s this struggle. I have to believe that there’s a way to fix this. I like the impossible problem.
[00:19:47] Joe: Well, let’s make sure we allow people to follow your plight along. You wanna quote something your TikTok handle you wanna talk about your foundation?
[00:19:56] Michele: I would love to. Okay. So here’s the thing. my own personal goal is to get to 10,000 so I can tell people how I chose to become a veterinarian.
So, My handle is at Dr. Forbes, f o r b e E Z. Because when I was going to school, I was always Michael Forbes and you know, when, when they were doing the class role, Michael Forbes. Michael Forbes. So I decided to embrace it. Right. Okay.
[00:20:17] Joe: There you go. All right, so everybody that’s listening, go out and follow her on TikTok and tell us a little bit about the foundation before we wrap up here.
Oh, thank you. Hear a little bit about Spirit, but let’s, let’s hear a little bit about Spirit Legacy. .
[00:20:30] Michele: So unfortunately, oh my gosh, it’s gonna make me tear up. See people like you, pets are pets are so amazing that they’re the only relationship that we get into knowing the relationship is gonna end before we’re ready for it to right?
Like that’s how incredible pets are. No one would do that to themselves willingly, . But here we are. We do it over and over again. Spirit didn’t make it to see CCH Open, so I started a nonprofit in his honor. It’s called Spirit’s Legacy Fund. I am the only person who does anything with it because I want all the money to go towards the pets.
We help. So when someone comes to our clinic and they have an emergent need, the dog just ate the sock. The cat can’t urinate. That’s the one I just had on Thursday. That Spirit’s Legacy Fund helped. We use the funds from Spirit’s Legacy Fund to save that pet’s life because in that moment, I don’t ever want a family to have to part with their pet because they didn’t have the money for that huge emergency.
A lot of families can have the money to do all the preventative care and the good food and all that stuff, but when. Something emergent happens, it’s hard to save up for that kind of experience. Sure.
[00:21:31] Joe: Well, this has been amazing. We’ll leave it here and we hope that everybody will follow along in your journey as you try to fix the world when it comes to their pets.
[00:21:40] Michele: Thank you, Joe. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and, you know, just to be able to share the story and, and get the news out there. So thank you very much.
Thanks for joining us for Building While Flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.
Welcome to Building While Flying!
This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.
In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild; building the plane while flying.
Our pilots, Katie Hankinson, Mickey Cloud, Maribel Lara, and Joe Quattrone will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.
Solving the animal care crisis.
Dr. Michele Forbes is the founder of Compassionate Care Animal Hospital, which is a Fear-Free certified practice, and an AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accredited hospital, which only 15% of animal hospitals are. She worked as an emergency veterinarian for 12 years prior to opening CCAH as well as founding Spirit’s Legacy Fund in 2015. Dr. Forbes is passionate about caring for patients and clients. She enjoys making a difference in helping patients live their best lives. Outside of veterinary medicine, she shares her life with her husband, three kids, two dogs, two cats, and a variety of wildlife who mostly stay out of the garage.
In this episode of the Building While Flying podcast, Michele joins Joe Quattrone to explain why the US is about to be in an animal care crisis. Michele gives some insight into the statistics, how this happened, and what makes her animal hospital unique.
- The bleak statistics of where animal care in the U.S. is headed
- The cash flow of animal hospitals
- Small independent vet vs. big corporations
- Why her hospital is unique and wants to change vet culture
- Is being a vet the right way scalable?
- …and more!
- Michele’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michele-forbes-a99773202/
- Michele’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drforbeez/
- CCAH Website: https://www.ccahpetvet.com/
- CCAH Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ccahpetvetina2/