Good Marriage…Good Medicine

Couples who share their lives both at work and at home report satisfaction.

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Kristen Lawmaster, DVM, never wanted to open her own clinic.

So when she and her husband, Todd Lawmaster, also a DVM, acquired the Parkview Veterinary Hospital in Monterey, Calif., two years ago, she had no plans to actually work there.

Not only did she not share her husband's entrepreneurial passion, she also assumed it would be a disaster. "Everyone warned against us working together," Dr. Lawmaster said. "I was still in my other job and I kept thinking to myself that there was no way I was going to work with him because everyone said how awful it is for spouses to work together."

It wasn't long, however, before she changed her mind. "The draw became too much because he was getting all this brand new equipment and I was working in an old, decrepit hospital," she said.

She now shares her husband's love of a more progressive, preventive form of veterinary medicine–if not his be-your-own-boss mentality–and has been working side-by-side with him ever since. They join a number of spouses who successfully manage a two-veterinarian household.

"It's is a fairly common thing." said Amy Carr, DVM, Dipl. ACVECC. "About 10 percent of my class married each other."

Dr. Carr and her husband, Her husband, Tim Concannon, is also a DVM and Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.

According to Carr, she and Concannon are the only two married critical care specialists in the country, and are two of three that practice at California Veterinary Specialists. Although they work in different offices, they agree that sharing their unique specialty improves the quality of medicine they provide.

"Because we've got a personal relationship, we're able to bounce ideas back and forth and to help each other out and it kind of facilitates professional discussions," Concannon said. "When we get into really challenging cases or a technically difficult situation, we're readily available to each other."

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Even though Dr. Concannon and Carr manage cases differently—Carr said she tends to be more intuitive, while Concannon said he leans toward the more analytical—they still very much value each other's input.

"We both end up respecting each others opinions and insights tremendously, and we seek it routinely," Concannon said.

The Lawmasters, on the other hand, do share the same philosophy when it come to case management and believe that it's that very singleness of purpose that improves the quality of care that they offer.

"We have the same ideas about bringing the latest technology into the hospital and are therefore able to provide even better medicine when possible," Todd Lawmaster said. "In addition, we don't have any hang-ups asking each other for help, which I think adds up to better treatment because we'll research things together."

Another spouse-owned facility is the Wellington Veterinary Clinic in Wellington Colo., which was started in 1999 by husband and wife team Tracey Jensen, DVM, and Wayne Jensen, DVM, Ph.D.

While Wayne Jensen helps out at the clinic as needed, his primary job is as senior director of research at Heska, and Tracey Jensen believes that his career in research and biotech is an invaluable resource for the clinic.

"It helps me enormously because he is very knowledgeable about cutting-edge advances and the latest that's known in veterinary medicine," she said. "That definitely keeps me very well informed from the outside. In addition, he has the opportunity to be on the front lines, so I think it helps him understand who he supports."

Wayne Jensen also manages the business; working closely with their office manager to develop fee scales and manage accounts, leaving Tracy Jensen to focus on the clinic's patients.

Others agree that a clinic runs more smoothly when only one spouse is responsible for the business decisions. "Todd is the definitely the business boss," Kristin Lawmaster said. "The clinic is his baby; he did the business plan and the groundwork, he found the hospital and he makes all the management and business decisions.

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"If we were both trying to make every decision, it would be very hard. There would be a lot of tension."

Marketing is another area in which they believe that their marriage benefits the clinic, and to that end the Lawmasters feature a picture of the two of them smiling on their Web site.

Since they tend to practice similar medicine, their clients know that they'll get consistency of treatment no matter which spouse they see. And staff and clients alike both enjoy the atmosphere.

"The staff likes us working together because it's more of a family-type atmosphere than when we've had other associates here," Todd Lawmaster said. "And our clients, who are mostly women, really appreciate the family atmosphere, especially when we spend time talking about our own families during their pets' exam. I think that our family-oriented approach has had the side benefit of becoming a good marketing tool, as our word of mouth referrals from clients have increased dramatically in the last year or so."

The Jensens also believe that their marriage is a marketing plus, and Wayne Jensen is listed as an associate even though he deals with clients only part-time.

"Our clients know that there is another option;" said Tracey Jensen. "If I'm with a patient, they'll often see him, and that's a very important marketing tool. In addition, I can impose on him more than I can another associate and it's very much an asset to the practice that he has clinical training and is actually very good clinically."

Not every two-veterinarian marriage is well-suited to such a working arrangement, of course.

"Our staff has been pretty vocal In talking about how they've worked for married couples in the past," said Kristen Lawmaster with a laugh, "and how bad it is when they don't get along."

For many married veterinarians, however, the few disadvantages of working together are relatively minor.

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"When we need time off to attend a conference, it can be difficult," explained Todd Lawmaster. "We have to really plan ahead to find a relief vet."

In addition, married veterinarians often find that a lot of their down time is spent discussing business.

"It's sometimes hard to leave the job behind," said Concannon. "Whether we're out or just having a  dinnertime conversation, we always kind of circle back around to what we do professionally."

Those who are able to make it work tend to share two common traits: They enjoy spending a great deal of time together and they have a deep, abiding respect for each other as people and as veterinarians.

Often, the personal and professional perks of working together blur into one mutually satisfying endeavor.

"To me, the big advantage to having a spouse who does the exact same thing that I do is that he understands every frustration that I have," Carr said.

"He's not just a husband and a business partner, but he's a really good friend. Plus we've been together almost 20 years, and we never run out of things to talk about. There's always an interesting conversation."

She and Concannon believe that their working arrangement makes them both more effective veterinarians and happier spouses. "I think it really rounds out the whole relationship and the marriage," said Carr, "having someone that can be not only your respected spouse, but your friend, and your business partner, too. If you have a strong relationship, it just makes it even better."

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