Dr. Mary Gardner, DVM started Vet School at 31 and then went on to a rewarding career as a hospice Veterinarian

Discover how Dr. Mary Gardner DVM started vet school at 31 and how she went on to become a hospice veterinarian. Learn how  Dr. Mary Gardner DVM did start Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice with Dr. Dani McVety.  Since then, the company has grown from just one veterinarian in Tampa to more than 130 veterinarians throughout the country. Lap of Love is the largest network of veterinarians dedicated solely to end-of-life veterinary care.

Dr. Mary Gardner, DVM is not only an entrepreneur but also an accomplished speaker.  Dr. Mary Gardner, DVM has spoken at animal hospitals, VMX, AVMA, WVC, Fetch, state VMA’s, IAAHPC, and veterinary schools across the country. 

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Meet Dr. Mary Gardner – A Hospice Veterinarian and Public Speaker

Name, veterinary school attended, and year that you started.

Dr. Mary Gardner, University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, 2004

What was your major in undergraduate college?

Marine Science

At what age did you first apply to vet school?


How many schools did you apply to?


How many application cycles did you apply to, before being accepted?


How many schools invited you for an interview?


How many of those gave you an acceptance letter?


Do you remember any specifically challenging interview questions at your UF vet school interview?

The only question I remember was my stance on terminal surgeries during vet school – meaning, we use animals that were intended to be euthanized (like at a shelter) do surgeries on them and then euthanize them after the surgery. I remember saying that I don’t think it’s necessary with the advanced technology today and that I would elect to use a cadaver and not a live animal for ‘practice’. It turned out that the person asking me the question was the professor who TAUGHT that surgery course. But he still accepted me because I gave a good solid response.

GPA is one of The University of Florida vet school requirements what was yours in undergrad?

Not great! Like 3.2

What was your GRE score?

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I don’t recall what the exact score was but it was the minimum to get into vet school! I remember suffering through that exam and excited to have gotten the minimum! I’m not a good test taker!

Did you attend grad school?


Did you have large and small animal experience prior to applying to veterinary school?

NOT much – I worked at a humane society and as a kennel worker for 1 year before being accepted.

Dr. Mary Gardner, DVM what types of paying jobs did you have before going to veterinary school?

I was a software trainer and business architect for 10 years before getting accepted to vet school.

How many people read your personal statement before submitting it?


Did you volunteer?

Humane Society in South Florida


Dr. Mary Gardner DVM – Starting Vet School as a Non Traditional Student

There are many reasons to become a veterinarian, when did you decide to become a vet?

When I was 30 yrs old. I’m a ‘second career veterinarian’. It wasn’t until I lost my own pet that I decided to go back to school.

Did you interview any vets before starting the application process? If so how did you approach them?

I did – UF! I drove to Gainesville for a tour and talked to one person in the admissions office, she gave me some tips. I also spoke to the Dean at the time and he said that volunteering alone would not get me into vet school and I needed a paid position in the animal world… that is when I became a kennel worker. I did what was suggested and in turn, I got more experience through my paid position at the humane society.

Were you a member of any clubs at your school? If so, which ones?

Yes – I was the President of the Canine Club for 3 years.

Did you apply for vet school after, or during your Bachelor’s education?

Way after!

Who provided you with your letters of recommendation? Did you know them well?

I had letters from both a Professor and a veterinarian that I worked with during that year. I also had a letter from my boss from the software company.

Did you find the application process stressful? Why or why not?

Not really – it’s more tedious than stressful.

 Do you have any advice for students, once accepted?

You’re in – don’t sweat the small stuff!

Any study tips?

Get a good night’s sleep every night!

Within your DVM program, did you take any classes that were particularly relevant to your current role as a hospice veterinarian and founder of Lap of Love?

Small animal medicine

What was the most challenging class, in your DVM program?

Endocrinology and pharmacology!

Dr. Mary Gardner, What is Your Favorite Thing About  The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine?  

We had awesome professors and clinicians. I’m now friends with many of them. Very down-to-earth, approachable and many were amazing mentors!

Are you happy that you chose this career?

Yes – very

As a Doctor, has there been any particular case that was your favorite?

My first resection and anastomosis.

Do you have a specialty?  

I’m not in a board-certified specialty but I am involved exclusively in veterinary hospice, palliative care, and end of life. One day becoming a hospice Veterinarian may be a specialty.

Learn Why  Dr. Mary Gardner, DVM Gets Into Hospice Care

How did you get into veterinary hospice care, and decide to work as a hospice veterinarian? Did it happen organically or was it something you were interested in prior?

I have always had an affinity for geriatric dogs and cats. The reason I became a veterinarian was because of the passing of my dog – so I have an appreciation of what end of life is like for families.  When in private practice, I was always good at discussing quality of life, helping owners with their terminally ill pets and delivering euthanasia.  But doing it ‘full time’ wasn’t a thought until I connected with fellow UF graduate Dani McVety (she volunteered for human hospice during undergrad). She was doing in-home hospice and end of life care for almost a year when we got together. It was then that I decided that the hospice veterinarian niche was perfect for me.

Learn from Mary Gardner, DVM How She Handles the DIfficult Task of Euthanasia

As a hospice veterinarian, you have to deliver euthanasia to people’s pets/family members who are in a state of emotional distress. Was there anything you needed to learn in order to handle such a responsibility? 

I had to learn how to be non-judgmental and very empathetic. Compassion is ‘easy’ for me but having empathy can be more challenging for people.  You have to be very good at active listening during these appointments.   You also need to have a massive amount of respect for the pet – owners who want to see that you care just as much as they do.  Even after the euthanasia, you must handle that pet with the same dignity that you would for your own.

What has been your most challenging case?


Have you read or listened to anything worth sharing? 

Being Mortal – Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
  • In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gawande, Atul (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 10/07/2014 (Publication Date) - Metropolitan Books (Publisher)

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How can people find you? 


Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-Home Euthanasia

Check out Dr. Buisson’s interview, who also has a unique niche in hospice care and public speaking.