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Career Spotlight: Yuri Lawrence

Written by: Dr. Yuri Lawrence
Published on: May 5, 2022

Yuri Lawrence
Dr. Yuri Lawrence

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. Yuri Lawrence.

Dr. Lawrence completed his bachelor’s degree at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Subsequently, Yuri worked as a research technician at Boston University School of Medicine before completing his M.A in Anatomy and Neurobiology in 2006. Yuri earned his doctorate in veterinary medicine degree from Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2010 and then completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at North Carolina State University the following year. Dr. Lawrence completed a residency in small animal internal medicine and earned a M.S in Veterinary Science at Oregon State University in June 2014 before becoming a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in September 2014. He received a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from Texas A&M University in 2019. His research evaluated novel non-invasive markers of liver disease in dogs and a list of his peer-reviewed publications can be viewed at Yuri values providing the highest standard of care to his patients and nurturing the human-animal bond. Yuri shares his home with his husband, three Persian cats, and loves running and time outdoors.

1. What inspired you to become a Board-certified veterinary specialist?

When I decided to become a veterinarian becoming a  Board-certified veterinary specialist was not something I was even aware of as a choice and the gift of being a veterinarian was all I had envisioned. As I progressed through the curriculum at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, I was inspired by the spectacular command of knowledge displayed by my instructors, who were Board-certified specialists. Furthermore, I loved how cerebral the practice of internal medicine was and how, due its multi-disciplinary nature, it permitted specialization while still commanding a large amount of information. Notwithstanding, internists were known as problem solvers, brainiacs, and I saw myself as obtaining those characteristics by achieving this designation instead of what I would be adding to the specialty by my presence. 

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?

The best and most helpful resources were people and by people, I mean mentors, and advocates. They are those special individuals at each stage of my formation who saw me and made me feel seen. Who believed in my humanity and pushed me to do more, to be more, to be better.  I remember getting an 89% on the first exam in my Master’s of Anatomy and Neurobiology program and I was feeling pretty good. One of those people said, Yuri, I know you can do better, and I will never forget the joy and pride I felt. It was the first time someone other than my mother expected more from me and not less. 

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 very decisive and did not require much affirmation other than my mother’s smile. Nevertheless, for me it was the journey and I relished it and savored each moment.

4. What is something you wish the general public knew about veterinary specialists?

I wish they knew we spend an equivalent quantity of time as our allopathic medicine counterparts on our education and similarly despite how much time or resources they may be spending with an internist; they are the last person you want to cut off a mass during an endoscopic study in the same way that a dentist is unlikely to deliver a baby.  

5. How is specialty veterinary medicine paving the way for advances in veterinary science?

Specialty veterinary medicine allows us to translate advances in veterinary science into advanced medical treatments and diagnostics for our companion animals.

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?

I would like to see the ACVIM – and other similar organizations – practice the change they seek to create. There is no shortage of organizations, universities, companies, and hospitals whose diversity and inclusion efforts are limited to a statement on their webpage, and this is totally inadequate. There is no shortage of organizations, universities, companies, and hospitals that sponsor a few scholarships for people of color to attend college or a school of veterinary medicine each year, however the impact of this policy is negligible. There is no shortage of organizations, universities, companies, and hospitals that support the concept of diversity and inclusion but if you look at their executive board or management team, it is homogenous. It is unclear how these institutions hope to promote diversity outside their walls while failing to do so within their walls. Furthermore, welcoming a person of color to the table and then saying please leave everything that makes you different outside and conform is not inclusion. The challenges that arise from learning how to adapt to people who are different is what generates the culture that can excel in any environment and adjust to change which is inevitable. 

7. What does a typical workday look like for you?

I recently started a mobile specialty practice and, consequently, I no longer have a typical day ... but generally it involves visiting several general practices where I perform abdominal ultrasound, or an advanced internal medicine procedure: esophagogastroduodenoscopy, colonoscopy, rhinoscopy, or diagnostic laparoscopy. I occasionally accept offers to locum at traditional multispecialty practices when I am feeling nostalgic. 

8. What do you consider one of your career successes?

I consider my Ph.D. one of my career successes of which I am most proud because I had hitherto considered myself a clinician and did not know if I could be a research scientist. How did you achieve it? The unlimited and unbound drive to redeem a mother’s love, sacrifice, and dream. A little hard work, patience, and the support of family, friends, and a wonderful mentor as well. A village of people.

9. What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career?

Racism. How did you overcome it? I do not know that I have overcome it, nor do I expect to without a lot of assistance. "All I'm saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of identity. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be - this is the interrelated structure of reality." – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Alas, in the interim I manage it with conformity to the majority ideal. This is not even who the ideal person should be but what the ideal person of color should be like according to the majority and even that I cannot do well because little is expected of me. My mother said I would have had to work 3X as hard to achieve the same level of career success, but I have been hurt 6X as much. When I finally get to that sunny mountaintop vista aching for acceptance, I am faced with contempt and threat. People feel threatened that I do not adhere to their stereotype of a gay black man. I am tokenized and this facilitates the implicit racial bias of colleagues because of stereotypical expectations. The experiences that this creates are normalized in our culture and consequently are often not recognized by those with the power to change it. I am forced to explain to someone who just ran me over with their car, that they did just run me over with a car and why it hurt to their utter dismay and disbelief. They don’t know where those tire marks came from, but it definitely is not from a car. Definitively, not their car and just a strange coincidence that people like me seem to be the only ones with this problem. I am disillusioned because I believed an education would liberate me from this experience, that my experience is most often denied, and that my experience is shared across professions contemporaneously, and historically over decades and centuries in the narratives of those that came before me. Unfortunately, my experience in veterinary medicine is not profession specific but a microcosm of society and for me what is felt most deeply is not the acts and words of my enemies, but the silence of my friends.

10. What impact has the ACVIM had in shaping your career?

The ACVIM has provided the structure for my career and thus has played a large role in shaping the borders of my career.

11. Finally, what is something unique about your career, or career path?

Everything and nothing. Everything because I am not aware of another West Indian American that has been able to choose the path I have chosen ... and nothing because of those who have pursued an analogous path in a different field have had similar experiences.

Black America was born in 1619. Life was not promised for this newborn. Joy was not promised. Peace was not promised. Freedom was not promised. Only slavery. Only racism. Only the mighty Atlantic blocking the way back home seemed to be promised. But the community started to sing long before anyone heard that old spiritual:

We shall overcome. We shall overcome someday. There is  no better word than we. Even when it is involuntary – meaning to be Black in America is to almost never be treated like an individual. The individual of African descent is not seen. The Black race is seen in the individual. All Black women are seen in the woman. All Black men are seen in the man.

Racist power constructed the Black race – and all the Black groups. Them. Racist power kept constructing Black America over four hundred years. Them constructed, again and again. But the antiracist power within the souls of Black folk reconstructed Black America all the while, in the same way we are reconstructing ourselves now. We constructed, again, and again. Them into we, defending the Black American community to defend all the individuals in the community. Them became we to allow, I to become me.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019
By Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain

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