Dr. Lillie Davis
This is the latest in a series of interviews with veterinary specialists connected to the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) to share insights, knowledge and expertise about career opportunities, growth and development. Today we hear from ACVIM Diplomate Dr. Lillie Davis.
Dr. Lillie Davis is a Board-Certified Veterinary Oncologist and a native of the Bronx, New York. After spending her childhood fantasizing about making a difference in the world, she set her sights on becoming a veterinarian and fulfilled her teenage dream of going to Cornell University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in Animal Science (2009) and her veterinary medical degree (2014). During her time at Cornell, she did research in a parasitology laboratory for eight years, where she published her first scientific paper on cuterebra parasites in cats. She then went on to complete a one-year small animal rotating internship at Purdue University in 2015 and returned to Cornell University to complete a three-year residency in Medical Oncology in 2018. During her residency, she published her second scientific paper on Acute Myeloid Leukemia in dogs. She became Board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Oncology) in 2018. She is currently practicing in the Greater Philadelphia area. Dr. Davis’s areas of special interest include fostering the human-animal bond and caregiver fatigue for owners caring for pets with cancer.
1. What inspired you to become a Board-certified veterinary specialist?
I knew I wanted to become a veterinary specialist from the beginning of my career. I fell in love with oncology during my two-week rotation in clinics as a senior. Being a veterinary specialist allows me to focus all my energy and passion into one area. In a funny way I always knew that being a general practitioner would be too much for my brain.
2. Are there any resources or pieces of advice that helped you along the way? Is there any advice you would specifically give to job seekers?
Working with a veterinary recruiter was how I found my first job out of residency, which I found to be very helpful. Nowadays there are more accessible resources like LinkedIn that I believe to be more efficient. The advice I would give to job seekers, especially women, would be to know your worth and don’t ever settle for less than that.
3. Is there a story or experience that stands out in your mind that reaffirmed your decision to work in specialty veterinary medicine?
I have always been attracted to specialty veterinary medicine, even when I was a kennel assistant at a high-end general practice in NYC. It was always something that felt right for me, so the major challenge was finding the specialty that was the right fit. With that said, no I don’t have any stories or experiences that reaffirmed my decision to be a specialist.
4. What is something you wish the general public knew about veterinary specialists?
That we have essentially dedicated our entire lives to this profession. The requirements to become a Board-certified veterinary specialist are rigorous to say the least. Friends and family are often surprised when I tell them that I essentially spent 12 years in school prior to becoming a veterinary oncologist (four years of undergraduate, four years of veterinary school, one year internship, and three year residency). So, we are passionate about animals and their wellbeing. We’re not looking to make a “quick buck.”
5. How is specialty veterinary medicine paving the way for advances in veterinary science?
There are so many exciting things being discovered and research being performed within the veterinary specialty space. Specifically in the cancer world, we are finding ways to diagnose cancer early in pets and new diagnostics tools that are minimally invasive but still very impactful. I love that as a veterinary oncologist I get to learn every day for the rest of my life.
6. When it comes to increasing diversity in veterinary specialty medicine, what kind of resources or changes would you like to see from the ACVIM and/or similar organizations? To phrase it another way, how can the ACVIM better support its diverse members?
Highlighting Diplomates of color (like right now), I think is a wonderful way to start. I also think that the ACVIM can be more transparent with how many minorities exist in this college (something I’ve been interested in knowing since I was a veterinary student). In addition, make becoming a veterinary specialist more accessible. As a Black woman who grew up in poverty, I had no financial assistance during residency, which was very stressful. The cost of board exams, dues, and travel expenses to take exams and go to conferences is severely limiting for a lot of people. I am thankful that I had mentors at Cornell who helped me as much as they could financially. However, the ACVIM should offer scholarships for disadvantaged members or aspiring members. It took me years to pay off the debt I accumulated to become a Diplomate.
7. What does a typical workday look like for you?
I am a veterinary oncologist working in private practice. So I see a mixture of cats and dogs with cancer. I work three to four days/week and see on average 10-15 cases a day (sometimes more). Of which all of those cases have cancer, so a large majority of my time is spent educating pet owners on cancer in their pets. Discussing treatment options such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and palliative care. I am also prescribing chemotherapy regimens and referring to other specialists when chemotherapy is not the best option. A lot of my time is also spent discussing end of life care for my owners’ fur babies.
8. What do you consider one of your career successes?
Becoming a member of the ACVIM and an oncologist remains and always will be one of my greatest career successes. I am so proud of my accomplishments from the age of 14 volunteering at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in NYC to being a DACVIM ~20 years later. Sometimes I still pinch myself thinking about how far I’ve come.
9. What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Not letting the sadness that occurs in my profession weigh on me. As a veterinary oncologist, I deal with a lot of death amongst my patients. That was not easy to tackle in the beginning of my career. I learned (the hard way) that I need to take care of my mental health first in order for me to continue to show up for my patients and clients. I also had to learn how to create healthy boundaries between myself and this profession. It’s just not sustainable otherwise. I have my mental health professionals, friends, family, and partner to thank for the balance I’ve learned to strike.
10. What impact has the ACVIM had in shaping your career?
The ACVIM has set the standard for veterinary specialists and continues to support all of us specialists in this growing college.
11. Finally, what is something unique about your career, or career path?
I’m not being modest when I say there’s not much that’s unique about my career path. I, like many other veterinarians, wanted to be a vet since I was a child. I was fortunate enough to set my sights on this career at a young age and was able to attend my dream college to achieve that goal. It’s as if it was fate for me to end up where I am.
Learn more about ACVIM and its members.