Like many kids, Dr. Tracey Jensen never really understood what her dad did for a living. As a construction manager for U.S. post offices, her father knew intimately the ins and outs of building projects. Little did Dr. Jensen know that years later she would make use of that expertise while building her own veterinary practice from the ground up.
“I never expected to own my own practice,” she says. “Life evolved in ways I never imagined, but it has been incredibly rewarding.”
Her path to practice ownership began shortly after graduating veterinary school in 1996. Just three years later, she and her husband, also a veterinarian, moved to a small town north of Fort Collins, Colo. Living near a veterinary school typically means that associate positions are slim pickings. But in Wellington, Colo., they saw plenty of opportunity.
“My husband, who was hired for a veterinary research job in the area, realized the need for a veterinary practice in this small community and said we should give it a shot,” Dr. Jensen says. And Wellington Veterinary Clinic was born.
But after three years in a 1,000-square-foot facility in a historic Main Street building, Dr. Jensen knew it was time to either stop accepting new patients or move to a larger facility. After much ado, she and her husband finally opened their new hospital in 2008. And the 2012 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition judges awarded the practice a Merit Award for excellence in design. The judges praised the facility’s clean and efficient floor plan and the unique boarding area—something new in Wellington.
Photos by Mike Jensen
Taking a team approach
Reflecting on the design process, Dr. Jensen says that building the hospital required a team effort. It all started with the fact that the town of Wellington had a long-standing ordinance against operating a boarding kennel within city limits. “But the town had a need, and we knew that boarding was one of the services we wanted to offer,” she says.
Dr. Jensen and her husband, Dr. Wayne Jensen, worked with the community to reverse the ordinance. The change still severely limits where boarding kennels can operate, including their proximity to residential properties. So the couple was required to get written approval from more than 50 percent of property owners within 1,000 feet of the proposed facility.
“This was not a trivial undertaking,” says Dr. Jensen. “We mailed letters to residents and walked door to door, talking about our plans and expectations.” Their efforts paid off, and they were able to start building a new facility just a quarter of a mile from the original building.
Next came the task of drafting the ideal floor plan. For the better part of four years, the couple took every opportunity to visit other practices, both locally and across the country, and take notes on what works and what doesn’t. Staff members also had a big say, offering helpful tips that Dr. Jensen says she wouldn’t have thought of on her own. “My technicians were instrumental in designing the countertop heights to be ergonomic and efficient,” she says. “They also gave great feedback on exam room sizes and layouts. And two other team members used to work at a boarding facility. I relied on them for a lot of great ideas too.”
An associate at the time played a big role in choosing the interior design elements that came later. “I couldn’t have done any of this project by myself,” she says. “And four years in, there’s very little about the practice I would change.”
Matching the facility to the medicine
Practicing in a historic Main Street building had its charms, but Dr. Jensen says the building never really matched their quality of medicine. In starting anew, she aspired to fix that.
“We knew our facility was not up to AAHA standards, though the rest of our practice was,” she says. “So first and foremost, we wanted a facility that matched our medicine.”
Besides adding three exam rooms to the mix, including a comfort room, Dr. Jensen asked for a treatment room that could hold more than one person and pet at a time—with partitions to offer each some privacy.
In a unique design decision, Dr. Jensen limited waiting room space. Instead, team members usher clients to an exam room to wait in a more private setting. She says clients prefer a more quiet space. “Only about 5 percent of the time does someone ask to remain in the waiting area” she says. “That’s the trade-off for more privacy: Some people feel claustrophobic.”
Clients who do choose to remain in the waiting area often find themselves watching the dogs in the play yard through three large windows. Dr. Jensen says this wasn’t a conscious choice, but she is glad clients have this view. “There’s something magical about watching dogs play,” she says.
As an owner of six dogs, Dr. Jensen paid particular attention to the boarding area design. “I just can’t put dogs in chain-link and concrete,” she says. “I wanted a place where I’d be happy putting my own dogs.” This led to the design of an apartment-style hallway for boarding. Mailboxes outside each kennel hold extensive charts and records for personalized care. Some suites feature windows looking into the south play yard, and all suites are tiled for easy cleaning with glass door fronts.
Dr. Jensen did leave room for expansion, should the need arise. She says the practice has experienced a compounded annual revenue growth of 12 percent. The active client base has grown from 3,404 to 4,678, and patient numbers have grown from 7,174 to 10,049. And the consensus is that the practice fits like a glove. “We were shrink-wrapped into the old building,” she says. “Here we finally have room to move.”
Wellington Veterinary Clinic
7837 6th St., Wellington, CO 80549
Owners: Drs. Tracey Jensen, Dipl. AVBP, CVA, and Wayne Jensen, PhD, MBA
Associates: 1 full time
Hospital team: 5 full time, 6 part time
Practice type: 100 percent small animal
Building size: 8,137 square feet
Parking spaces: 22 client and 9 staff
Construction: $1.4 million (building only, excludes land purchase, landscaping,
parking lot, etc.)
Site improvement: $304,658
Professional fees: $191,840
Year built: 2008
Animal Arts, 735 Walnut St., Boulder, CO 80302
fax (303) 444-1759
The reception and waiting area is welcoming, with three large windows offering a view into the dog play yard.
Clients spend most of their time in the exam room, rather than in the waiting area, and these rooms are designed for privacy and comfort. Each is equipped with bench seating, dimmer switches, and exhaust fans with individual controls to remove odors.
Dr. Jensen loves the spacious treatment area, which features a central island and individual work areas that can partition off each patient for privacy. Two solid-surface exam tables and two tub tables offer plenty of working space.
The open pharmacy shelving allows easy, quick access to mediciations for filling prescriptions and inventory assessment. Both the pharamcy and laboratory are in close proximity to the exam rooms for efficient outpatient workflow.
The pass through is secured with glass doors to prevent debris from entering the surgical suite. Both a spotlight and a shadow-free surgical lamp are available. An outside widow provides natural lighting and makes the room look larger.
Play and exercise yard
Boarded dogs enjoy three large play areas, one of which runs the entire length of the facility.
The boarding area looks more like a row of apartments, rather than a row of prison cells, Dr. Jensen says. Each suite features a glass-front door with skylights, wall sconces, and greenery for a warm, homey feel. Mailboxes add to the apartment feel and offer a place to store pets’ medical records.