Michael Hill, DVM (’09) and Leilani Cota, DVM (’12) co-own the Hill Animal Hospital in Hickory, North Carolina. But that’s not the only connection they share: they met in undergrad, attended RUSVM, and were married in 2007.
Both aspiring veterinarians at the time, Dr. Hill and Dr. Cota started dating while attending North Carolina State University. After two rounds of applications to the NCSU veterinary program didn’t work out for Dr. Hill, he decided to give it “one last try” and apply to RUSVM. He was accepted.
As Dr. Hill was pursuing his DVM in St. Kitts, Dr. Cota was finishing up her prerequisite classes to apply for veterinary school as well.
“I really liked the program at Ross, so I suggested rather than wasting time and money applying to U.S. schools, just apply straight to Ross,” says Dr. Hill.
A visit to the island campus and sitting in on some classes helped confirm it for Dr. Cota.
“I felt like I was going to get more hands-on experience compared to stateside schools,” says Dr. Cota. “Plus, I’m an island girl—I was born in Hawaii and I’m Puerto Rican, so I was like ‘Yes, yes, yes!’”
All in the Family
The couple have been practicing at the clinic since graduating from RUSVM. Dr. Michael Hill’s father, Dr. Kenneth Hill owned the clinic before transferring ownership to his son and daughter-in-law earlier this year. They see pets ranging from dogs, cats and rabbits to ferrets, sugar gliders and reptiles. And although they’ve both now been in practice for a few years, there’s never a routine day.
“Recently we had a dog who ate a six-pack of men’s shaving razor blades and had chewed all the metal blades loose,” says Dr. Cota. “It was a two-and-a-half-hour surgery to find and cut out all the little blades.”
But while the variety of the job’s demands can be challenging, it’s something that both vets value.
“One of the great things about being a veterinarian is that we can do so many different types of medicine and help animals in different ways,” Dr. Michael Hill says. “We can become cardiologists, orthopedists and neurologists all at the same time.”
In fact, between the three vets working on myriad cases, they’ve essentially outgrown the current building.
“Right now, we’re in a 1950s-era office that was designed for one doctor—not three—and we use each room for about 20 different purposes since we have such limited space,” says Dr. Cota. So they’re in the process of moving to a new location that will more comfortably accommodate everyone, including a separate waiting room for cats and exotic animals.
Their advice to aspiring vets: Work hard in your classes and clinicals, but be sure to brush up on your business savvy, too. Both recommend taking a course in finance or business management, and emphasize the importance of communicating with clients.
“It’s really important to explain to clients what you’re doing, so they understand what’s happening to their pet,” Dr. Cota says. “Many of my new clients who come from other vets tell me this is one of the reasons they left. I’ve had clients tell me, ‘[My old vet] didn’t explain anything, they just took my animal and gave me a packet to read."
Dr. Hill adds, “Remember there’s someone on the other end of the leash.”