Over the course of 40 years, change can be expected. In Gainesville, however, one constant the past four decades has been Suburban Animal Hospital.
Founded by Dr. Mark Coleman in 1974, Suburban Animal Hospital has grown into one of the most trusted hospitals of any sort throughout Alachua County.
“As a veterinary practitioner, our main concern is providing great service and information for our clients,” Coleman said. “Those clients, in turn, provide their pets and animals with great care. For me, that philosophy has never changed.”
Coleman’s philosophy began as a child on a farm in West Central Indiana where he first found a liking toward animals. A graduate of Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Coleman intended to stay in rural veterinary medicine. A stint in the United States Air Force Veterinary Corps (a period Coleman describes as “the best two years of my wife and I’s life”), however, led Coleman to become a small animal practitioner in Chicago before finally finding his way to Gainesville to raise a family and start a practice “without the red tape a corporate entity can find itself having.” His wife, Melinda, began as his receptionist and assistant as well as his bookkeeper, a job she has continued to date.
Now alongside six other veterinarians and 29 other staff members, Coleman has grown Suburban Animal Hospital into a Gainesville institution that prides itself on providing the very best.
Just one of the many facets of Suburban’s commitment to excellence is an insistence on keeping up with the many technological advances and changes the field has experienced over the past 40 years.
“Veterinary medicine has changed greatly, and now we can provide so many options for diagnostics and treatments,” Coleman said. “However, decisions are not just medically related. Rightfully, economics, humane considerations and individual owner concerns are deciding factors.”
Suburban Animal Hospital has been a member of the American Animal Hospital Association since 1977. The AAHA evaluates its members every three years based on office protocol, safety, training, staffing and equipment. Less than 15 percent of all small animal hospitals are fully accredited with the AAHA.
Professionally, Coleman is pleased to have participated in the pharmaceutical field trials of the first monthly heartworm preventative. This increased his interest in the disease and led to his participation in, and later his position as president of, the American Heartworm Society. Coleman was also one of the original members of the Alachua County Humane Society and has been active in local and state associations.
Nowhere to be found are the drab walls and lifeless décor that make medical offices seem cold and uncomfortable. Oak furniture, antiques and vintage design make Suburban a cozy place for people and their pets.
“I believe that, if you want your clients to believe in the warmth that your staff provides, your surroundings should feel warm and inviting as well,” Coleman said.
On top of a warm quality to their work, Coleman believes that a love and appreciation for animals is needed to work in the veterinary medicine field, which is a quality the staff of Suburban naturally attracts. According to Coleman, everyone at Suburban “respects that our animals have feelings, fears and concerns.”
Dr. Richard Sammy has been with Suburban since graduating from the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2004 and sees the staff at the hospital as a “wonderfully cooperative environment” that practices a “high level of medicine.”
“We have a great reputation in a community, and 99 percent of our clients come from word of mouth,” Sammy said. “Part of that reason is because we lean on each other’s strengths here at Suburban.”
For Rose Powell, Suburban’s office manager, the hospital is “the best mix of different personalities with every kind of bedside manner a client would want.”
“We are just like a family, and we believe in treating everyone’s pets like they were one of our own,” Powell said.
Powell, who has been with Suburban for almost 15 years, believes that the hospital’s pledge to going the extra mile helps meet nearly every client’s needs. For example, Suburban’s elongated Saturday hours are unique in Gainesville, as well as the option for clients to pick up their pets on Sundays from supervised boarding. Furthermore, a staff member is designated on-site at the hospital 24 hours a day to attend to overnight patients and be available in case of emergencies.
Such an extensive system for customer service helps to explain the longevity of Suburban in Gainesville.
“You have to enjoy helping people and dealing with their concerns if you want to live long in this field,” Coleman said.
Living long in the field is exactly what Coleman and Suburban have done in Gainesville, which is an integral piece of the practice’s success. Coleman came to Gainesville with his wife, Melinda, to avoid the Chicago congestion and have a place to spend the rest of their lives with their three children. Once they visited the area, which provided “a small town environment with big city entertainment and activities,” the decision was made to settle in Gainesville.
For Sammy, Gainesville has been a great place to raise a family and give back to the community through his work. Sammy, also a graduate of UF’s College of Engineering, changed careers and found that veterinary medicine was the right fit for his interests in core medicine, problem solving and puzzles.
“Suburban and Gainesville (have) been a great fit for me,” Sammy said. “This has been my first and only job out of school, and I love it here.”
The passion and love for Gainesville and Suburban always comes back to the man who started it all: Dr. Coleman.
“He has been a wealth of information, a great boss and the best mentor and role model anyone could ask for,” Powell said.
After 40-plus years in veterinary medicine, Coleman currently has no immediate retirement plans, but he does foresee that Suburban will continue to function once he stops personally practicing.
When that time comes, Coleman said he will not seek recognition.
Instead, he explained, “The end results of your work are your biggest reward.”