Commentary: Marriage, divorce and veterinary medicine

September 14, 2016
Dani McVety, DVM
Dani McVety, DVM

Dr. Dani McVety is owner of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-Home Euthanasia in Lutz, Florida.

Does your professional life affect your personal life? One veterinarian gives her honest and thoughtful response on mixing love, work, marriage, children, divorce and life.

Getty ImagesI knew someone would ask me this question eventually, but I underestimated the effect it would have on me. At a recently University of Missouri Veterinary Business Management Association meeting, I ended my presentation as usual by opening it up for questions-my favorite part! Immediately a hand went up: “Does your professional life affect your personal life?” 

I was silent. Yes, I could graze over this question, but there was a larger opportunity here: to plant seeds in the minds of veterinary students that may give them permission to follow their dreams, to feel empowered to proceed confidently on the path that they've chosen-thank you, Henry David Thoreau-even if they're meeting resistance from others in their personal life.

After a few wordless moments, I said, “I'm going to give you a very authentic answer.” 

What I said

Yes, your professional life will affect your personal life. It will affect everything you do and every relationship you'll have. Being a veterinarian is a dream come true, and for me, it's a passion. It also comes with a price. But not everyone will understand this.

I got married one month before veterinary school started, at the age of 22. He started law school at the same time. And as our lives began to grow, we truly had the perfect marriage. Three years later we had our first child-in veterinary school, on purpose-and our second shortly after graduation. My business began to expand very quickly and new opportunities arose.

My life evolved from veterinary student to mother to veterinarian to business woman to speaker and author. At the same time, my husband's career as an attorney was blossoming. There was a long period of time where I remember sleeping less than four hours a night. Sleep was what I gave up instead of losing time with my family. But I was never unhappy. On the contrary, I was completely and utterly fulfilled. Unfortunately, this fulfillment wasn't from my marriage. It was mainly from my work and my children. 

If you haven't realized it yet, we have to make a lot of difficult decisions in veterinary medicine, ones not everyone agrees with. No one understands what it's like to hold life and death in your hands, to have something as simple as money to be part of the equation, part of your medical protocol even, and then have a client throw disgraces at you because they assume you're only "in it for the money"-so ironic, of course.

No one understands what it's like to hold life and death in your hands, to have something as simple as money to be part of the equation, part of your medical protocol even, and then have a client throw disgraces at you because they assume you're only "in it for the money"-so ironic, of course.

Not many people know the feeling of making yourself push the plunger on a syringe that delivers death to a pet that you feel is “treatable,” given more time or funds. You do it anyway because it's the only option left. These things take a toll on you as a person, and you either get stronger because of it or you shut off the emotions and pretend they don't exist. We all handle them differently, but one thing is for certain: this job affects you to the core.

Yes, my passion for my work as a veterinarian played a huge role in the collapse of my marriage. You see, I'm one of those people who believes in loving my job, in loving the way I spend most of my waking hours and in using that work to make the world a better place. In fact, I'm not ashamed to say that it's how I define myself and my contribution to society. That definition comes with a cost, however. And I paid a big price for it.

Do I wish the outcome was different? For many reasons, yes, I do. But "coulda-shoulda-woulda's" are ridiculous. My ex-husband is still a dear friend to me, and his girlfriend is one of the kindest, gentlest souls I've ever met. We live a half mile apart, and our children are happy, safe, protected and loved beyond measure. No one gets married expecting to get divorced, especially when you spend a third of your life with someone, like I did. But I am happy. Truly, peacefully, happy.

No one gets married expecting to get divorced, especially when you spend a third of your life with someone, like I did. But I am happy. Truly, peacefully, happy.

The most important lesson I learned on this journey: fulfillment is a feeling. It's not a job. It's not a person. And it's not a place. Fulfillment is purely a feeling. So find that feeling, and live it each day. Not many people will understand what it's like to be a veterinarian, and that's OK. As long as you know what this career means to you, that's all that matters.

Dr. Dani McVety is owner of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-Home Euthanasia in Lutz, Florida.