Balancing Motherhood And Veterinary Practice

Alice Villalobos discusses what is has been like attempting to balance motherhood and a full-time veterinary practice.

When building Coast Pet Clinic/Animal Cancer Center (Coast) in 1977 I was only 29 years old. We designed the upstairs with a big conference room and a full kitchen and bathroom that opened to a spacious room that could serve as a day care facility for babies and small children.

But the children did not come to our practice, not until this century.

A Chance to Help African Orphans

As I write this, I’m getting ready to lead a group to South Africa to see Dr. Peter Brothers, a wildlife veterinarian who leads Brothers Safari. So I am making a special plea to readers to help feed orphaned African children who have lost parents to the AIDS epidemic. These children have nothing. In Malawi alone, 2 million of its 12 million people are orphans. Please join me in sending donations to Nourish the Children at

Nourish the Children had nutritionists from my alma mater, the University of California, Davis, create a special fortified food called Vita Meal to nourish starving children.

In addition, Linda Hines, a former president of the Delta Society, is now working to help set up a sustainable orphanage for almost 200 orphans in the remote village of Songea in southern Tanzania. You may reach Linda at and look at the orphanage’s website,  —A.V.

Most of my contemporary female colleagues, including me, did not have children while working at Coast. Our intern classes were young veterinarians on the move who would have their children after they left our practice. There were no playpens or toddlers in our upstairs. Today, our practice is experiencing a more prolific story. Practice demographics have changed. Coast joined the corporate practice model with VCA in 1999 and transitioned into the new century with a new mindset. 

According to the September 2009 article by Micaela Z. Shaughnessy, VMD, in Exceptional Veterinary Team Magazine, the average new associate will be 28 and female and she has an 80 percent chance of having at least one child within three to five years of employment.

In the past five years, three of our associates have brought seven children into the world with joy and appreciation. They are balancing motherhood and working at a busy practice.

It takes teamwork, flexible scheduling and a positive attitude by practice owners and everyone in management about pregnancy and child care.

This core philosophy is germane to the new face of veterinary medicine. It is much more than acceptance and tolerance. The practice owner’s attitude must be supportive and joyful despite the temporary burden placed on the practice because in the long run, the practice benefits by keeping valued associates on staff. 

Flexibility is very important for female associates and all staff members during their childbearing and child-rearing years. 

I asked our medical director, Dr. Jennifer Kitchen, who is on maternity leave at the moment, to say a few words about balancing her career with motherhood. Here is Dr. Kitchen’s story:

Every woman dreams of having it all—career, family, marriage—and wonders if it is really possible. I believe that it is, but not if you try to do it by yourself. As the old adage goes, “It takes a village.”

Since graduating from veterinary school in 2004, I have been fortunate enough to have a career that I love, a happy marriage and I just had my second child. But I didn’t do it alone.

Here is how things happened at VCA Coast. When I went on maternity leave with my first child, Dr. Jessica Huszar was just returning from her maternity leave and joined our practice while I was away. When I came back, she reduced her hours and then went on maternity leave again. While she was away, Dr. Vivian Nagao joined our practice.

Dr. Nagao and I were already sharing a spot at day care; it was the only way to get the kids in as the day care facility is always at capacity. So she joined our practice and we alternated days to get the practice covered. Then Dr.
Nagao went on maternity leave and I increased my hours to help cover her.

She came back and is now altering her schedule a little and Dr. Huszar has returned to help cover me, as I just went on maternity leave myself.

Confused yet?

The point is, we have been able to rotate our family needs and cover the needs of the hospital at the same time through our joint efforts. It has just taken a little coordination and cooperation from the other doctors in our practice and VCA.

On a personal note, when I returned from maternity leave, I took a good hard look at my career and my priorities. I couldn’t leave my little baby with strangers for a job I didn’t truly love. And I do truly love my job. I returned with a reduced work week but at the same time took on the position of the hospital’s medical director. I feel more focused at my job, and more committed to the practice and my growth as a veterinarian.

It has also been helpful to have a network of at least two other moms who are in the same position as me. We can empathize with each other about the needs of being a working mom.

From my family’s standpoint, it is good that my children have a mother who is happy and a role model for pursuing an education and a career. And because we are veterinarians and always have to work at least one weekend day, that means Daddy is in charge at least one day a week.

It is hard for mothers to let their husbands be in charge as they always do things differently (translate “wrong way”). Being at work and leaving the kids with their father forces us to butt out and let our husbands develop their own routine and relationship with their kids, unencumbered by mother’s meddling (we can’t help it!).

I am extremely fortunate and thankful that I have had access to such a wonderful community of strong women to help share the responsibilities of career and family. I could not do it without them and have never been happier in my career!

There are still no playpens upstairs at VCA Coast because our valued associates have made child-care arrangements with family and local day care facilities. But you should see all the great family photos around the hospital.

Other benefits to consider for female associates include setting up a tax deductible savings account for child care and related expenses; paid maternity leave; flextime; and a privacy room for breast milk pumping. And we always greet the “I am pregnant!” announcement with joy and support.


Alice Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, is a past president of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and president-elect of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics.

This article first appeared in the November 2009 issue of Veterinary Practice News

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