When Francoise Tyler and William Draper met at Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, they couldn’t have known what was to come.
The two married after vet school in 1993, but didn’t date while in college. According to Tyler, something changed around graduation.
“We were best friends in vet school, until we graduated,” said Atlanta native Tyler. “And then, I guess our eyes opened.”
The two vets now run a series of practices called The Village Vets, the first of which they started in 2000. That first practice consisted of just the two of them and a few other staff, but they now have seven practices in the area. Atlanta, one in Pennsylvania and about 170 employees, according to Draper. Their newest practice is The Village Vets: Avondale Estates, where they primarily work right now.
Of the two, Tyler was the one who knew she wanted to be a veterinarian from a young age. She was interested in science and math and said she can’t really remember a time when being a vet wasn’t on her mind.
“I was interested in medicine in general,” she said. “My dad is a retired orthopaedist, so when I was little I used to hang out with him and go see patients. I always heard about his cases, and it was very interesting.
Draper, on the other hand, had a bit of soul-searching to do before he figured it out. Raised in Inglewood, California, he remembers a trip he took to Tuskegee with his family when he was 11 years old. His parents and grandparents had met in Tuskegee, and Draper was eager to follow in their footsteps. He thought he wanted to be an engineer, just like his father.
“We were in Tuskegee when I was 11, and [my father] was heading towards the engineering building,” Draper said. “I went there with him because I wanted to see where I was going to school, and he said, ‘I thought about it. To be an engineer, you really need to have a good grasp of math And you don’t.
After uncovering this hard truth, Draper’s father suggested his son put his science skills and love of animals to good use and think about veterinary medicine. The rest is history.
While practice came first, Tyler and Draper were soon presented with an interesting opportunity; a television show. Draper said the Nat Geo Wild television network approached the couple and asked them to appear on a show called “Love and Vets.”
“They were looking for a couple of married vets in a big market who had their own practice, and they found us,” Draper said.
The show ran for one three-episode season in 2017 and was not picked up any longer. But now, with the show available to stream on Disney+ and to rent on other streaming services, Draper said he’s noticed a slight upsurge in popularity.
“It’s funny, people come up to me and tell me they’ve seen…all eight episodes,” Draper said. “And I’m like, ‘There’s only three. “”
The couple considered trying the TV lifestyle again after this spike in popularity, but ultimately decided against it. They still had kids in school at the time, and Tyler in particular said she couldn’t see a way to make it work.
“I’m proud to be involved parents, and it was embarrassing,” Tyler said.
Reconciling family and work
Now that the couple’s children are older and out of the home, balancing family life and work responsibilities has become a bit easier. But this has not always been the case.
“When they were smaller, I will say I struggled,” Tyler said. “Will and I come from the old school thinking that you work, you work, you work. Especially as business owners, it’s your responsibility. In the end, it all ends up falling on your shoulders. I took that to heart, and so did Will.
Managing both a business and a family can weigh heavily on anyone. Tyler said she felt pressure to excel at both of her jobs and sometimes struggled to thread the needle of being there for her patients and being there for her children in equal measure. She recalled that when two of her daughters were both playing softball, there were times when she confused who had a game and who was practicing, and accidentally sent them into the wrong uniforms.
“I wanted to do 110% for both jobs, as a vet and as a mother,” Tyler said. “But I struggled. I was running, I mean literally, I was physically running, out of the hospital, or into that game, or into the hospital.
The couple both said they wouldn’t have made it through without the help of their friends and family, and despite getting confused or having steam-running times, they made it work and fit together. are presented for their children.
“Fran and I are a great team, and someone was always in that game,” Draper said. “There was always someone at that dance recital. We made sure they saw us there and that we were involved.
Tyler and Draper both spoke about the responsibilities they felt as a successful minority couple in a predominantly white profession. According United States data81.9% of vets in 2019 were white and non-Hispanic. In the same year, 67.3% were women.
“One of the things that’s important to Fran and I – and we take it seriously and understand that it’s a responsibility we have just because of who we are – is the fact that we’re minorities in a profession. dominated by old white people, and now young to middle-aged white women,” Draper said. “There are still people to this day…who will come and have never seen a black vet before.”
Draper said that because of this reality, he thinks if the right vehicle for a TV show ever comes along and doesn’t invade the couples’ lives so much, he might think about taking it.
“We understand our responsibility to use the gift of this great profession to encourage other young minorities to take up positions in medicine and science,” Draper said.
You can learn more about The village veterinarians on line.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Dr. Draper was born in Inglewood, but was just raised there.