By Kelsie Donaldson on January 30, 2023

Michael Curley (DVM ’84) bought the Red Barn Veterinary Clinic in 1989. Since then, he’s learned a lot about mentorship, client communication, and the business skills needed to own and operate his own clinic.


What initially drew you to veterinary medicine?

My father was a small-town, mixed animal veterinarian. We had four kids in my family, and while we didn’t have everything we wanted, I had a very comfortable upbringing. I thought if I could provide that for my children, that would be a pretty good life.

Can you briefly describe your career path?

I came to Grand Rapids right out of Michigan State, and I went to work at a veterinary clinic for five years. Then the chance to own a veterinary clinic came around. The clinic I bought was actually my father’s classmate’s, who has known me since I was a little kid. It was a very smooth transition.

What is your favorite part about working at your clinic?

I’ve had my own practice now for 33 years, so my favorite part has transitioned. Initially, my favorite part was helping to build the practice and become my own veterinarian. Then I started to mentor the younger veterinarians; I feel a responsibility to my employees to help them along. Veterinarians by nature have an independent streak in them, so it’s a balancing act. I want to give them the wisdom of my experience, but I also understand that they’re independent and make their own decisions.

Do you have any advice for current veterinary students?

There are so many avenues for veterinary students. There’s government, medicine—one of my classmates is even the state veterinarian now. There are so many paths. Students don’t have to become just a small animal veterinarian. That’s always been my path, but it doesn’t have to be everybody’s.

What was your favorite class in veterinary school and why?

I always liked surgery a lot. In my senior year, I really enjoyed my soft tissue rotations and orthopedic surgery rotations. I liked to be able to do things with my hands, to understand the anatomy and fix the things that needed to be fixed. And that is still very rewarding.

What is something you learned in veterinary school that you still use today?

I still use the scientific thinking—learning about the potential problems and applying what I know and have seen every day. So that’s part of it, but an even bigger part of it is communicating properly to clients and alleviating their concerns about their pet. It’s tough to learn that in school, but client interactions are something that students pick up from other veterinarians or other professionals. I’ve been doing this for 38 years, and I’m still modifying my presentations!

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Are there any other skills that come in handy as the owner of a clinic?

There are definitely some business-related skills that come in handy. There is often a conflict that goes on in veterinary medicine in that veterinarians don’t want to be seen as only doing it for the money. And of course, I want to see pets get better, but I have to take into account things like the overhead of the clinic, my employees’ salary, and the cost of equipment. Finding this balance takes practice. In my experience, if you provide a good service and people know that you care about their family member, the money will come.

What is your favorite way to celebrate being a Spartan?

My favorite way is to take my Spartan gear everywhere I go. Wherever I go, all around the world, I always have positive interactions with other Spartans. I represent MSU wherever I go, and I enjoy meeting people who are doing the same.

Is there anything else you’d like to touch on?

The Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine continues to have a very positive reputation, and I know that is going to continue. I look forward to being the old guard that carries on the tradition.