Dr. Ashley Buffington has been practicing veterinary medicine for 25 years. She founded Buffington Veterinary Hospital in March of 2002. Dr. Buffington enjoys practicing small animal medicine and surgery and is a sole practitioner. She has been married to Todd for 29 years and is the mother to 7 boys. When she is not taking care of her patients, Dr. Buffington loves hunting, fishing, gardening, making jellies, crocheting, and spending time on Lake Claiborne. Dr. Buffington is an alumnus of Louisiana Tech University (1994) and LSU School of Veterinary Medicine (1997).
Megann McDaniel recently sat down with Dr. Ashley Buffington, owner of Buffington Veterinary Hospital, to discuss the pros and cons of owning a small business and what Veterinary Medicine means to her.
As a small business owner, what do you see as the primary benefits and challenges? A primary benefit of being a small business owner is my ability to have autonomy and full authority when running my practice. In a larger practice or a corporate setting, there are rules and procedures that must be adhered to. As a sole practitioner, I am able to offer a quality of veterinary medicine that meets my personal high standards, as well as making decisions based on each client’s needs. The biggest challenge at this time is staffing. Finding qualified employees with necessary job skills is becoming more difficult. In the current job market, there are job shortages all over the state and veterinary medicine is no exception. Another challenge I faced when starting my practice was that, while I am a very competent veterinarian, my business knowledge was lacking. When I decided to open my own practice, thankfully you (Megann) told me about the Small Business Development Center at LSUS. The SBDC helped me put together my business plan and provided the steps I needed to create my LLC.
When graduating veterinary school from LSU Baton Rouge, you mentioned Minden was as big of a city as you would like to live in. What did you mean? What are the benefits and challenges of living in and owning a business in a small town? I always knew I wanted to come back to NW Louisiana. Our mother was very sick during my first year of vet school. When we realized Mom’s illness was terminal, I promised her I would come back home and help raise my two younger sisters. Upon graduation, a veterinary position in Minden became available and I was attracted to the size of the town. I love Minden; it has been a great place to raise my family, with many of my clients becoming friends and like family to me. Although working in a small town has many endearing qualities, one challenge I have found is that a single industry can have a big impact on a small business. When the oil and gas industry crashed and the Haynesville Shale stopped providing income to families in our community, my business along with many others, took a big hit economically. Several small businesses ended up closing down as a result.
You are involved with so many charities and service organizations (Lions Club, Royal Family Kids Camp, Hunters for the Hungry, Becoming an Outdoor Woman, St. Jude, to name a few). I know your time is limited as a mother of 7 and business owner. How do you pick the charities, events, causes you engage with and support? Being raised in a large family that was very close, children have always been first and foremost in my heart. Having struggled with infertility for 12 years and adopting 4 of my 7 children, I have a passion for helping children and mothers in need. I tend to focus my attention on charities that serve in those capacities.
When asked in kindergarten what you wanted to be when you grew up you listed a ‘doggie doctor’. How/when did you know? What advice do you have for those unsure or struggling to decide? I knew from a very young age I wanted to be a “doggie doctor.” I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. To others, I would suggest that they find what brings them joy and happiness and then find a way to incorporate that into a career.
Traditionally business was predominantly a man’s world, both in owners and key decision makers. What has been your experience? What improvements have you seen? Veterinary medicine has changed drastically over the last couple of years. When I first graduated it was approximately 60% male and 40% female. Once I moved to Minden and started practicing, some clients, mostly male, refused to allow me to treat their animals. The primary reason was because I was a young female. Up until the time I started practicing, there had been very few female veterinarians in Minden. Thankfully, times have changed and veterinary medicine now sees graduates being 83% female and 17% male. Clients do not think twice when they see a female veterinarian, now.
Our family has experienced tragedy and challenges our entire life. As a child: an absentee father (your biological father), alcoholic/abusive father (my biological father), stents of homelessness, divorced parents, multiple marriages, blended families (from parents), and being raised by a single mother. As young adults: multiple miscarriages (mom, you, me), infertility, loss of our mother (you were 24 and I was 16), and your loss of two children. For many people, just one of these would be enough to derail their dreams. Both of us have not only survived, we have thrived and are now on the giving (not receiving) side of charity. What do you attribute to your drive, focus, and determination? Was it the strong examples set by Nana and Mom or more of the desire to not recreate our childhood? It is a bit of both. The desire to not recreate our childhood was the absolute driving force. In the 10th grade my math teacher told me that since I was being raised by a single mother, I would never amount to anything and I would end up in jail. That lit a fire in me to prove her wrong. Also, our mother, who remained a strong, positive woman, despite all of the pain and suffering she was in, was a great role model for me. Regardless the situation, she never gave up.
You are a modern-day Pioneer Woman. You hunt (can skin and process the deer yourself), fish, grow a garden, and make jelly (proud to say we do this together and I LOVE it). What do you think inspired this? Nana (who survived the Great Depression) or was it more of you wanting to always be able to provide for you and your family regardless of the circumstances? How can we inspire the younger generations to engage in some of these life skills? Our Nana initially introduced me to these life skills. As a result of the dire situations we were faced with growing up, I knew I never wanted to be unable to provide for myself and my family. This is one reason why teaching survival skills in the Becoming an Outdoor Woman program through the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is so important to me. Actually, with the younger generation, I have seen the pendulum swinging back around as interest in these skills is becoming more popular.
What advice would you give to young Ashley? What advice do you have for young women, single mothers, or anyone currently struggling? I would tell them to learn how to stand up for yourself, be competent, and no matter what know that YOU CAN DO IT. I also recommend taking business classes any chance you get if there is any possibility you may someday own or run a business.