Lindemann looking to share experience with new vet partner
By Robert Williams
Frazee is one of only three towns in Becker County fortunate to have full-time veterinary practices. After beginning his Frazee practice out of his garage, Dr. Randall Lindemann and his team have been at the current location of Acorn Lake Veterinary Service for the past 12 years.
At 71-years-old, Lindemann has slowly been edging toward finding an exit strategy from the business, but is concerned about finding someone to take over the service and nip a very present trend of a lack of veterinarians in rural areas.
“I’m working hard enough that this practice could use two veterinarians,” said Lindemann. “I wouldn’t be as busy.”
Along with caring for residential pet owners, Lindemann also provides large animal service at farms around the region.
“It’s hard work,” Lindemann said.
Large animal work has its drawbacks from the weather to the work itself. Lindemann recently did pregnancy checks on 356 cows in one day at this time of year.
“You’ve got to keep moving right along.”Dr. Randall E. Lindemann, DVM on his busy schedule
A realistic exit strategy does not include running straight into retirement. Lindemann is searching for a recently graduated veterinary student or one early in their career to help slowly transition the business.
“If I can get somebody new, a recent grad or somebody that graduated yesterday for all I care, they’re going to work for me and I’m going to look over their shoulder,” he said. “These youngsters may very well be better veterinarians than I am as they get out of school. I don’t think they have quite enough experience, but they’ve seen a lot of things and mastered some of them. They can go right to work here. I think everybody would be more comfortable; I know I certainly would have been with maybe a little bit more resource from the older fellas that were there. Somebody like that comes in here, he or she will get a lot of experience and have somebody here to be the backup and rely on and that leads to comfort.”
Lindemann is also concerned about any change being an easy transition for clients. He is frequently asked how much longer he is going to work. Much like his manner in dealing with stressed-out pet owners, Lindemann provides a steady reply that he is not going to up and quit on his patients or their humans.
The main concern is finding the light at the end of the tunnel and that is strictly finding someone who is open to taking over the business. Apart from learning the business of caring for a variety of animals, dealing with their owners is as big a part of the job.
“That person can come in here and watch me deal with people,” Lindemann said. “I think there is something to be learned there; something that is not taught. I think that I do some good here. I think I give people solutions to problems.”
While many veterinary graduates are courted by corporate practices, Lindemann has an eye for the kind of candidate that could help ease his workload and gain valuable experience.
“The person that would come here would have to be a self-starter with some ambition, but not stars in their eyes about things and also, something of an entrepreneur,” he said. “You can build something here that is worth something and it’s yours.”
The situation at Acorn Lake Vet Service is not uncommon around the region, where many of the current veterinarians are nearing retirement age. An area that is already underserved is close to becoming much more underserved without the next generation of animal doctors.
Approximately a decade ago, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill establishing a student loan repayment program for veterinarians willing to serve underserved areas. In order to pinpoint areas that were underserved, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) polled its field staff. At the time, Lindemann was dubious of the idea that there were significant areas that were underserved. Indeed, there were and are areas without a vet practice located nearby. Yet, there were veterinarians available and willing to provide service to those livestock-sparse areas in, for example, the Red River Valley.
According to Lindemann, the situation has changed in the intervening years because the Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) doing the work then are still largely the same people.
“To my knowledge, only one or two additional veterinarians have been added to that roster in those years,” said Lindemann. “I can think of seven DVMs in my acquaintance who are over 65 years of age and several of us are beyond 70 years of age. Thus, most of those will not be practicing in another five years.”
Aside from Acorn Lake, the other two vet services in the county are a solo practice in Audubon and a multi-doctor practice in Detroit Lakes, neither of which does any production animal or equine work. All three practices are within one 25-mile stretch of Highway 10.
According to Lindemann, within the past two years four veterinarians have retired and closed three practices within 25 miles of his practice. Efforts to transfer those businesses to new owners were unsuccessful. All three of those practices did production animal work for local farmers
That has meant an increased workload for Lindemann and his team.
“Our practice has inherited a significant amount of work from those practices,” he said. “We seldom go more than a day or two without a call from a potential client wondering if we are taking new clients or patients (we are). We also know that our clients and others frequently self-refer to the Red River Animal Emergency (RRAEC) Center in Fargo, as we receive case reports from them. While we do offer limited emergency services, clients often present at RRAEC without even calling us as they understand that we can’t be available 24/7. As a result, RRAEC often operates with wait times of six to 12 hours because of a heavy caseload drawn from a wide area surrounding Fargo.
For Lindemann, it is safe to say the workload for him and his team has doubled, at least.
“While I enjoy my job and don’t mind working, I am also at a point in life where I can find other things to do with my remaining years,” he said. “Despite that, we have continued to develop the practice, including investing in new equipment to improve our diagnostic and treatment capabilities. All this is an attempt to meet the needs of livestock producers and pet owners. In short, if we can find no veterinarian to take over this practice, we will likely close it down in the next few years.”
The last statement is not something Lindemann says lightly. It is simply a realistic fact. The loss of the business would adversely affect many people who count on his service, along with it being one of the more trafficked retail establishments in Frazee.
Lindemann employs three full-time veterinary technicians/assistants and he strives to pay them living wages and provide other economic benefits. There are also several part-time employees who help with cleaning and maintenance. Additionally, his wife Sharon is employed full-time as the office manager and Lindemann’s retirement would also open up Sharon’s position to be filled by the right job-seeker.
A native of southwest Minnesota, near Worthington, Lindemann’s affiliation with the Frazee area dates back to 1975. Lindemann moved up to Pelican Rapids in 1975 to represent American Breeder Service.
“While there, I met a lot of people, but I also met a tall, slender, blonde chick that I really liked and mostly still do,” he said. “I’ve kidded people for years when I moved in, the population said 1,835 and very shortly I came to realize that was 1,800 Norwegians, 30 Swedes and five Germans and I made one more, so six of us were Germans. I found one of them and married her.”
Sharon and Randall dated a couple years, married and moved back to where he is from, west of Worthington, where they stayed for nine years.
He attended vet school at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, but he was a nontraditional student.
“I hit vet school at age 36, so I graduated and 11 days later I turned 40,” he said. “I had a wife and a child and shortly, another one on the way.”
Lindemann has a varied employment history that included farming, driving semis, and two years as a photojournalist at the Daily Globe in Worthington.
Throughout all of that, he worked as a representative for American Breeder Service inseminating cows and selling semen.
Out of college, he went to a practice in Spring Grove, Minn. The owner had been at school with Lindemann getting his Master’s degree and specialty certification.
“I thought I could really learn from him but I got there and it was a rip-roaring practice and we didn’t do much talking,” Lindemann said. “Practice opened at 7 in the morning and closed at 6 at night and I was on call 40 percent of the on-call hours.”
Lindemann’s wife Sharon was expecting the couple’s second child and living in St. Paul because her job had health insurance.
She moved to Spring Grove after giving birth, but the family would soon be on the move again.
Lindemann’s salary position was not adding up to enough money to raise his growing family.
“Already at that time I knew I was leaving because I sat down and did a little bit of math and I was taking home after taxes somewhere between $7-8 an hour,” he said. “It was at that point that I thought what was so wrong about being a Teamsters truck driver? Before I went to vet school, I spent six years working for Montgomery Ward in the early to mid-80’s and I was making $13.35 an hour when the truck wasn’t rolling and 31.5 cents a mile when it was. It was huge money at the time.”
His first vet position out of college was simply not good enough.
“There’s got to be a better way than this, although, I will say, I got a ton of experience,” he said.
Randall’s brother was living in Stevens Point, Wis., and knew a veterinarian that lived nearby. That relationship turned into a second chance for Lindemann, but that opportunity was short-lived.
“I ended up working there for 11 months and eight days,” he said. “I went out on a farm call and came back in and the two guys I was working for said I better sit down and we have to talk,” said Lindemann.
The practice did not have enough work for three vets.
Two years out of vet school, Lindemann was on a search for his third job.
He began locum tenens work, short-term contracting, for several years looking for a place to land.
“I filled in-between time hauling Wisconsin potatoes to some place that didn’t have enough potatoes,” he said.
At a potato stop in Chicago, Lindemann was wearing a cap that had a veterinary supplier on it and was approached by a man who asked, “What are you? A veterinarian of some kind?”
“You’re not going to believe this but yes, I am,” Lindemann replied.
“What are you doing driving semi? You should be someplace making $300,000 a year!”
“I said, there ain’t a veterinarian on God’s green Earth making $300,000 a year!”
A family Christmas letter found a dairyman who responded with his own letter stating a veterinary partnership in Pelican Rapids was dissolving. Randall and Sharon were on their way back up north. Eventually, he bought into a Detroit Lakes practice with a partner. A year or two later, his partner wanted out, which became a four-year nightmare.
“When this partnership thing came apart I had financial issues almost immediately,” Lindemann said.
“My job ended for all intents and purposes. It darn near broke me, but I went home thinking I’ve got to find another job and move and then the phone rings.”
The phone kept ringing with work.
“And here we are,” said Lindemann. “I didn’t necessarily set out to start a practice, but the phone rang. People knew me. Necessity is the mother of invention and that’s what it came to be. I still had student loans, a mortgage; I needed an income beyond those obligations, so if somebody said, ‘hey, would you spay my cat?’ I can do that and after you do a few of those I guess I can do more tomorrow. It keeps coming in the door. Somewhere along the line, you realize it has its rewards beyond the money. The animal goes home and gets better and the people love you for it. I guess that’s not all bad.”
For a year, Lindemann worked out of his garage and made house calls before moving to the Daggett-owned location next to Neighbor to Neighbor on Maple Avenue.
“I like what I do and I don’t mind working but I would like to be freer than I am. I really never planned to fund my retirement with the sale of a practice because I thought that was a difficult place to get to. Here, it’s kind of an all or nothing deal.”Dr. Randall E. Lindemann, DVM
Giving up the working life is certainly not something that will come easy to Lindemann.
“I suffer from a pathologically hypertrophied work ethic—hypertrophied means overgrown and pathological means there is something wrong with me,” he laughed.
Lindemann is looking to share that work ethic with the next generation of veterinarians, hopefully in a situation that allows Acorn Lake Vet Service to continue on as a staple in Frazee.
“The premise is I think I have something here to sell, but what has been a problem with practices like this around the country and I can name names—they were what is referred to as a no-low practice. It has no or very low value. Plenty of veterinarians over the last 50 years, to their dismay, learned that their practice was one of those.”
Acorn Lake Veterinary Service has succeeded past that limitation.
“This thing here is pretty well out of that category,” Lindemann said. “I think it is worth something and I don’t just want to close the door and sell the pieces. If you can’t demonstrate to somebody else how they’re going to make a living in 40 hours, rather than 80, your practice isn’t worth anything. It’s arguably worth something to the City of Frazee and to the community. The growth rate of this practice speaks to the need for these services and indicates that it may soon be able to support another veterinarian.”