Making History in Alaska and the Veterinary World

February 28, 2023

Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center (Tier 1 VMC) is a privately owned, multi-million dollar hospital located in Palmer, Alaska. 

Yes, Alaska. 

In just 3 years, Tier 1 VMC surpassed multiple industry benchmarks by recruiting 11 Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVMs) and over 60 Technicians to join them, all IN THE ARCTIC regions of Alaska. But how? How did a company in the middle of, let’s face it, practically nowhere, during one of the most competitive job markets in history, attract some of the most talented professionals in veterinary medicine to the wilds of Alaska?

Would you believe it all started with one dog?

Ok. One dog, one determined dog owner and an equally passionate vet. 

It was a case every vet has seen before. Dog versus vehicle. Pelvis is destroyed and surgery is required as well as extensive rehabilitation. 

Possible to save? Yes, definitely. 

Quality of life jeopardized? Probably not, the patient is young enough to heal.

Does the client look like they can afford the cost of care? Nope… sure doesn’t. 

And that’s where our story begins.

Chapter 1: It Was a Cold, Dark Night…

When Jamie walked through the doors of the emergency veterinary practice at 10:00 pm with her dog, Bristol, it was one of those cases most DVMs dread because it almost always means the client is going to have to opt to euthanize because of the cost of care. 

Jamie was in dirty jeans, a hoodie, and carrying an REI backpack with so many country flags stitched onto it that she looked like she spent the better part of her twenties living solely out of hostels. 

Oh, and she smelled like fish. 

Salmon to be exact.

One of the first lessons that we teach all of our onboarding veterinarians and technicians at our hospital is “do not judge a book by its cover.” More specifically, don’t judge someone’s wealth by their appearance. Alaska isn’t Los Angeles or New York. The people who look like they have money, don’t. The people that look like they don’t have any money, do. In our hospital, it is the number one reason that we always start with the gold standard estimate. It is entirely inappropriate for our team to judge the level of care that clients want to provide their pets. 

Not only could Jamie afford the cost of the case, but she was also committed to doing whatever it took to give 6-month-old Bristol a shot at a normal life. Upon learning that there were limited-to-no rehabilitation services for small animals in Alaska, Jamie began her quest to find a veterinarian who could help restore Bristol’s legs so that she could walk again. Time and time again, the name Dr. Sean McPeck came up.

Dr. Sean started his career as a Sniper Team Leader and veterinarian with the United States Special Operations Command. While pursuing both his Biology Degree and his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sean continued his service in both LRSD and National Guard Special Forces units as a Search and Rescue Team Leader, and an Operations Officer. While deployed, he oversaw the construction of canine kennels, built and ran a veterinary field hospital, received canine MEDEVACs at every level, conducted numerous life-saving surgeries, and provided point-of-care veterinary support during Direct Action operations on high-value targets. He was responsible for the preventative care, nutrition, and husbandry of hundreds of Military Working Dogs in remote locations worldwide. 

It was during his time in service that Dr. Sean authored and implemented the first Comprehensive Canine Conditioning Program. With so much experience in conditioning and rehabilitation, Dr. Sean was more than qualified to help Jamie get her pup back on her feet.

Because not only was Dr. Sean an incredibly qualified rehabilitation veterinarian, he also fully understood the limited resources Alaskans faced for healthcare, both humans and animals. 

Dr. Sean grew up in Alaska. 

Chapter 2: Why Not Here?

“I am looking for someone to conduct regular rehabilitation and therapy with Bristol. Post-surgery recovery has been a nightmare. She cannot stand on her own and I have had to muzzle her when she has to go to the bathroom because she needs me to lift and hold her in that position.” – Jamie related to Dr. Sean.

As Jamie and Dr. Sean started chatting, it became apparent that Jamie had done her homework. And while she knew what needed to be done to help Bristol regain movement, it was becoming increasingly clear that the resources simply didn’t exist anywhere near her. Impressed with her tenacity and passion, Dr. Sean put together a rehab plan that Jamie could implement at home under his guidance. 

“Why don’t we have a rehabilitation clinic in Alaska? I can’t be the only one wanting this service. Everyone has dogs up here and loves them like they’re their kids!” Jamie questioned.

“I agree. Alaska should have specialty care and more advanced medicine. I would love to start a hospital that offered this and rehabilitation and conditioning,” Dr. Sean said. “Actually, it’s been my dream for a long time. I just don’t know how or where to start. I do not know how to start a business.”

The next conversation would change the lives of so many Alaskans…

Chapter 3: Following Their Own Rules

Dr. Sean had a thousand ideas about how he would build a hospital. When he and Jamie met next, he boiled it down to a few foundational steps to getting it started.

Unlike most business plans, they scrapped everything they had learned and started with fresh ideals:

  • The hospital had to be a place that doctors and technicians wanted, no, deeply desired, to be a part of. Their voices had to be heard so that the culture remained community and team-minded.
  • The hospital had to have specialty services so that the General Practitioners (GPs) and Specialists could work off of one another, collaborate and have resources.
  • The hospital had to be physically bigger than anything anyone would suggest initially because most veterinarians outgrow their space within 18 months.
  • It had to have a “Dream Team.” Core team members each had their own area of expertise so that Dr. McPeck could focus on his area of expertise. 

And, of course, the little things, like needing millions of dollars in financing and trying to convince your wife to take one GIANT LEAP of faith to start a business in Alaska. I mean, she’d only have to stay there for five years at most, right?

“We do not know anything about starting a business, Sean!” Dr. SaraRose McPeck said.

“Oh come on, we have tons of experience. We’re both veterinarians. We’re both really skilled. We know how clinics should run,” Dr. Sean explained to his very, very upset wife.

“Sean, what about all of the other business stuff? Like running the practice, financials, taxes, all of that stuff?” Dr. Sara said.

“Easy. We hire professionals to handle the areas in which we aren’t experts. We bring in a dream team and empower each of them to get things done the way that we want them to. Sara, this could be big. Like really BIG,” Dr. Sean explained.

Dr. Sara wasn’t on board with starting a massive hospital in the middle of Alaska. She didn’t come from a family of business owners. She came from a line of hard-working people who had jobs, did their best, saved their money and then retired. The uncertainty of starting a brand new business was unsettling, to say the least. 

Add to that, she had JUST given birth to their second child and risking their careers to start a business at a time when she craved stability did not seem like the best course of action. Especially since they planned to leave Alaska before the kids started school. 

Like so many before her, Dr. Sara followed Dr. Sean to Alaska on the promise of being able to earn enough money to pay off her overwhelming student debt, have a remarkable adventure while they were young and then leave.

Or, so she thought. 

Reluctantly, she slipped on a dress, made sure that the kids looked top-notch and headed off to meet the alleged “dream team” candidates that would help Dr. Sean bring his vision to life.

Chapter 4: The Dream Team

When the “dream team” first met, it was at a remote lake house in Alaska. Each had been invited to come together and determine if there was any synergy to work together. 

Compatibility is one of those things, either the chemistry was going to be there or it wasn’t. They would know very soon if there was any chemistry, and the energy in the air was more than a little electric. A lot was riding on this. 

Creating a start-up business sounds exciting, but we needed people who would be dedicated to the grind. We needed people to do the work that no one else was willing to do. We needed a team that connected and more importantly, believed our dream was not only possible, but achievable. 

During dinner, we discussed the vision and the dream, but afterward, it was time to get down to one on one sessions. We started a round robin of each person spending time visiting with one another to get their questions answered. After all, this wasn’t a “job interview” per se because really, there was no job to offer. This was about coming together and saying, “Dream the impossible with me.” 

We weren’t opening a “vet clinic.” Any DVM with a semester of business classes underneath their belt could feel that was possible. We wanted to build a veterinary hospital unlike what any veterinary professional had ever seen before. A hospital that started with culture, experience, community and care.

The real question was, could this handful of people from all walks of life pull it off?

We needed a visionary, a medical director, an operations person and someone to handle the financial aspects. Oh, and at least one of them had to be strong enough to stand up to all the others to poke holes in the plan and play Devil’s Advocate.

Could a dream team be assembled? 

Chapter 5: Tell us everything you hate about veterinary medicine

If you hire a business professional to help you draft a business plan, they may start off talking about target audiences, market demographics and proformas, all of which are important. But if you are Dr. Sean McPeck you begin by asking those you like working with most, “What do you hate about working in veterinary medicine?”

Dr. Sean had traveled all around the world serving in a variety of communities as a Doctor of Veterinary

dr. Sean McPeck at tier 1 vet

Medicine. What he discovered was that no matter where he went, the problems were pretty similar. 

So he started to take inventory of every complaint that people in the veterinary profession had about their employers. He figured, if he could isolate and identify the problems, he could work on solving them. Perhaps not for everyone, but for an elite team of professionals who were willing and ready to be the change they wanted to see he could make a difference.

Every complaint, every reason became part of the business plan. The team took every objection and problem-solved it. They presented the obstacles and found solutions by doing hundreds of hours of research. 

And as they started to share their plan, they were met with skepticism. Over and over again they heard:

All the hospitals are corporate.

It’s too hard to recruit.

No one reinvests in medicine. 

No one really cares about their team culture.

Bottom line: “That will never work.”

But isn’t that how the best success stories start?

Chapter 6: A New Way of Practicing Veterinary Medicine

With the core team assembled, they went on to find others that shared in the vision. Soon word began to spread about a place where the focus was on providing quality care, and the work was truly rewarding on both a personal and financial level. The community began to talk as well of a veterinary hospital with expanded services to meet all of their pets’ needs, from everyday care to specialty services ranging from oncology to ophthalmology. 

The dream quickly became a reality, a huge 14,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art reality. Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center was everything the naysayers said it couldn’t be and more. In three short years, it blasted past industry standards and became one of the most talked about practices in the nation, a place that’s drawing some of the most talented individuals in veterinary medicine from all over the world. 

The dream quickly became a reality, a huge 14,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art reality. Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center was everything the naysayers said it couldn’t be and more. In three short years, it blasted past industry standards and became one of the most talked about practices in the nation, a place that’s drawing some of the most talented individuals in veterinary medicine from all over the world. 

Come see for yourself what makes Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center such an outstanding place to build your career, change your direction or bring your four-legged family member for the best care they can receive. Contact us today to set up an appointment.