At an early age, Donna McWilliams knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. From the time she was in grade school, she was bringing home snakes and all sorts of animals. As an elementary student in Texas, she was paid to maintain a salt lick and water trough for a small herd of cattle. Her parents observed her natural interest in animals and were supportive. Her father was in the Navy, and she moved from Northern Virginia to Charlottesville to San Antonio as a young child.

McWilliams received two of her three degrees from Virginia Tech: a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1993 and her DVM degree in 2002. She earned a master’s degree in psychology, with an emphasis on neurological research, from Radford University in 1995. Her husband, Kevin, is also a Hokie.

As she tracked mixed animals in school, her first position was with a mixed animal practice in Galax, Virginia. She enjoyed working outside but was up all hours with emergencies. In 2003, she and her husband decided to move to Florida since both of their parents had relocated to the Sunshine State. She found that Florida desperately needed veterinarians due to the state’s exploding population.

In Florida, McWilliams joined a four-doctor, AAHA-certified companion animal practice in Tarpon Springs, where she practiced until 2007. In May of 2007, McWilliams, her husband, and their four-legged children moved to Lakeland to purchase My Pet’s Animal Hospital. In 2009, McWilliams purchased Sarasota Animal Hospital, a two-doctor AAHA-certified practice, with her colleague Mark Downing, who serves as the medical director.

In 2009, McWilliams was also nominated for the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Lakeland Program. This program allowed her to become immersed in the successes and the issues of the city and brought to light specific opportunities to fill a need. She also got to know the most influential in Lakeland.

One specific area of need drew her attention: more expertise for students in local schools. McWilliams became involved as an advisory member with the Veterinary Science Academy at George Jenkins Senior High School. Students take courses in veterinary science and work to receive a certificate of completion, making them more competitive hires in the veterinary field. Middle school students from McKeel Academy regularly job shadow at her hospital as well. There are a handful of students in the summer and two students during the school year who assist in the practice. Groups of various other students also volunteer from time to time.

McWilliams also created the K-9 Care Program, where she partnered with several other veterinarians in the area to assist the Lakeland Police Department with the retired police canines. Local veterinarians agreed to offer their services free of charge for these dogs with regard to exams, dental, and vaccines. She also teaches local firefighters who deploy with the SWAT team and K-9 unit how to insert IV catheters, place endotracheal tubes, and approach and restrain civilian dogs and cats in an emergency.

An active community member

Donna Williams (DVM '02) with dog
Donna Williams (DVM '02) with dog

Since moving to Lakeland, McWilliams has become involved in numerous community groups and activities. She currently services on the board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce, the Lakeland Police Foundation, and the Lakeland Rotary Club. She has been a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners, American Business Women’s Association, Business Networking International, and Emerge Lakeland.

McWilliams and her husband welcomed their daughter, Shae, into the world in June of 2009. Prior to the birth of their daughter, she was also a member of the Lakeland Landsharks (triathlon club) and hopes to pursue this interest again in the future. For now, she stays fit with Haka Fitness, running and the occasional obstacle course race. McWilliams and her husband both played rugby when they were younger. They recently attended the Rugby World Cup in Europe. She also serves as an ambassador for a company called Skirt Sports, a small female-owned business out of Colorado that works to empower women through their company message and products.

McWilliams was also the president of the Ridge Veterinary Medical Association in 2010-11 and is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Animal Hospital Association. She is certified in canine rehabilitation (physical therapy for dogs) and in veterinary acupuncture. McWilliams practices integrative veterinary medicine, which combines elements of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine — such as acupuncture, medical massage, herbal therapy, and food therapy — with traditional Western veterinarian medicine.

Donna Williams (DVM '02) at a social
Donna Williams (DVM '02) at a social.

Recently, her reach has begun to expand beyond central Florida. McWilliams and her husband, who is the CFO of both hospitals, have been invited to speak to the veterinary students at St. Kitts this summer regarding integrative and alternative medicine and the financial aspects of owning a practice. She was also recently tapped to participate in a focus group of independent veterinarians to discuss the impact of Mars, Inc. on the veterinary industry.

McWilliams received Lakeland’s 2016 Best Veterinarian Award and My Pet’s received the 2016 Small Business of the Year Award. She has practiced veterinary medicine for the past 15 years, been a practice owner for 10 years and is in the process of expanding her hospital, My Pet’s Animal Hospital. Her advice to students and alumni is “it is very important to take advantage of volunteer activities as participating can be life changing and can pay off in the long run.”

Written by Lynn Blevins