Career success can sometimes sabotage a happy marriage — and vice versa. But for Dominic Bagnoli, M.D., and Vivian von Gruenigen, M.D., the two go hand in hand.
The couple met in 1987 during Vivian’s first week at Boonshoft School of Medicine, when Dominic was a second- year student. Dominic noticed Vivian right away, but two years passed before they started dating. In 1990, Dominic matched in the emergency medicine program at Akron General Hospital. A year later, Vivian matched in the obstetrics/gynecology program at Akron City Hospital. The couple married that summer, soon after Vivian graduated from Wright State.
Now, 21 years later, the couple has two teenaged children and lives in Dominic’s hometown of Hartville, Ohio. Both physicians enjoy highly successful, though very different, careers. Dominic is chief executive officer of Emergency Medicine Physicians in Canton, a company he launched with two other physicians during his residency. EMP, one of the nation’s leading providers of emergency medicine services, has grown to more than 700 emergency medicine physicians treating nearly three million emergency medicine patients each year in more than 60 locations. Dominic has received numerous industry awards for his success as an entrepreneur and business visionary.
Vivian, a gynecologic oncologist, spent several years in private practice after her fellowship. In 2002, she joined Summa Health System in Akron and also was recruited by Case Western Reserve University to teach and conduct research. Vivian currently holds multiple appointments, including department chair of obstetrics and gynecology for Summa Akron City and St. Thomas Hospitals and medical director of women’s health services for Summa Health System. She continues to teach at Case Western and at Northeastern Ohio Medical University, and is also editor of a popular, often humorous women’s health blog called Summa Flourish.
Juggling career and family commitments has been a challenge from the early years of the marriage. The couple’s first child, Dominic, was born toward the end of Vivian’s residency. Soon after, the family moved to Dallas for Vivian’s gynecology/oncology fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. By then, Dominic was already committed to EMP, and the work required him to commute back and forth from Dallas.
“My fellowship had no restriction hours, and I was on call all the time,” recalls Vivian. “Dominic was out of town two weeks of every month. We survived because family members and friends came down to visit and help. They’d cook and freeze meals for us and take care of the baby.”
The couple’s second child, Elise, was born in March of the last year of Vivian’s fellowship and the family returned to Ohio that summer. Once again, career demands and family commitments collided. “I was a young gynecologic oncologist in private practice, sometimes operating five days a week, and Dominic was growing his company and working as an emergency physician,” Vivian says. “Dominic had convinced me that we should build a house in Hartville, and that he would be the project manager. Things reached a tipping point, and after a lot of debate we renegotiated our time commitments. How’s that for putting it diplomatically?”
Keys to success
Such communication and compromise have served the couple well, Dominic says. “Having a spouse and friend to talk with about personal and professional issues has been a big positive,” he says. “Our personalities are different, but we are both passionate about our work. If Vivian needs to change our plans because something has come up with a patient, I understand—she doesn’t have to explain it to me.”
Planning has played a key role in the couple’s success on the home front. Dinner is on the table at six o’clock, and it’s rare for anyone to be absent. Dominic and Vivian communicate frequently in person and by phone, emails, and text messaging. They try to never be out of town at the same time. And, years ago, Vivian found a go-to activity for the family: skiing. “Ski weekends capture our children and keep our family connected,” she says.
Dominic and Vivian admit that balancing the demands of their careers and relationship hasn’t been easy. “As physicians, the challenge for us is the same as it is for other busy, professional people—there are always distractions and many opportunities to grow apart,” says Dominic. “We work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Their efforts are paying dividends in their personal and professional lives, says Vivian. “Before I met Dominic, I remember thinking, you know, I have a lot of ambition—maybe I should go this alone,” she explains. “But he has taught me that we can build our lives and careers and be better together than we would be separately.”
Dr. Bagnoli and Dr. von Gruenigen are supporters of Boonshoft School of Medicine, where they recently endowned a scholarship for medical students. They were among 11 alumni honored in February at the 12th Annual College Outstanding Alumni Awards Luncheon at the Wright State University Nutter Center for making exceptional contributions to their professional fields while giving back to their communities.