The Whole Veterinarian

Learning to Take Care of Yourself featuring Lillie Davis, DVM, DACVIM Oncology

July 01, 2021 Lillie Davis, DVM, DACVIM Oncology Season 3 Episode 31
The Whole Veterinarian
Learning to Take Care of Yourself featuring Lillie Davis, DVM, DACVIM Oncology
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Lillie Davis proves that hard work and determination are the keys to achieving your dreams. She also realizes that it's easy to lose yourself in the process. In this episode we cover everything from boundaries and self-care to the difficulties that people of color face when entering the veterinary medical field. Lillie is so genuine and warm; I am so thankful to have gotten the chance to get to know her. I hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did.

About Dr. Davis

Dr. Lillie Davis is a board-certified Medical Oncology Specialist and a native of The Bronx, New York. She earned her undergraduate degree at Cornell University in 2009 and her veterinary medicine degree at Cornell University in 2014. She completed 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. She became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Oncology) in 2018.
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Stacey Cordivano:

Hey there, it's Dr. Stacey Cordivano. I want veterinarians to learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for the life that we've created. On this podcast I will speak with outside of the box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day to day life. Welcome to the whole veterinarian. Today's guest immediately felt like a friend. I loved getting to chat with Lillie Davis. In this episode, Dr. Lillie Davis is a board certified medical oncology specialist and a native of the Bronx, New York. She earned her undergraduate degree at Cornell University in 2009, and her veterinary medicine degree at Cornell University in 2014. She completed a one year small animal rotating internship at Purdue University in 2015 and returned to Cornell to complete a three year residency in medical oncology in 2018. She became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine oncology in 2018. In this episode, we cover everything from setting personal boundaries to ways in which people of color are inhibited from entering the vet med field. I loved her insight, and I am so appreciative of the time she spent chatting with me. Before we get into the episode, here's a word from our sponsor. And as a side note, Lillie has an episode with Isaiah Douglass, who is our sponsor on his show the veterinary success podcast last month, so be sure to go and have a listen to that one as well enjoy. Questions about finances vincere wealth management is the solution. Isaiah Douglass is a partner of Vincere Wealth Management and the host of The Veterinarian Success Podcast. He is a fee only Certified Financial Planner, and he and the Vincere team are dedicated to serving veterinarians in all stages of their careers, Vincere can assist you whether you're a new graduate getting started or an experienced bet trying to navigate selling your clinic and moving into retirement, you have enough stress in your life, finances no longer need to be on that list, you can find a link to download their free resource called a financial guide for veterinarians on my website at the whole veterinarian.com slash resources. Thanks again to Isaiah and vincere wealth management for their support. And now enjoy the show. Hi, Lillie, thanks for sitting down to chat with me today.

Lillie Davis:

Hi, Stacey. Thanks for having me.

Stacey Cordivano:

I'm so excited to hear your story and find out more about you. So can we just start there actually, I'd love to know more about you.

Lillie Davis:

Sure. I am a New York City native. I was born in Staten Island raised in the Bronx, New York. And I didn't have the best upbringing. But most of the people who know and love me know that, you know, that wasn't enough to stop me from achieving my dream, which was to become a judge first. And then I realized I had to become a lawyer. And I was like, Nope, not doing that. And I was like, What about science? Science is great. And then I learned like, there's such a thing as doctors for pets. And I think I was 14 and I learned that and that was it. I was like, That's amazing. And growing up with pets like multiple cats. You know, not many dogs. I was like, that's my, that's my calling. But I feel like that's a similar story that we all have really, yeah, um, you know, I set my sights on leaving and going to college to get out of a pretty not so great environment. And that was my gateway out. And I was very lucky that I set my sights on a goal. And I was able to achieve it over and over and over again. And I think it's a blessing and a curse. Because like I had my sights set on this profession for so long. And then once I've arrived, it's like, oh, I'm here. Okay, now what is it like to be a human? man, who am I? like that existential crisis is real.

Stacey Cordivano:

Yeah, I think that's a universal problem for a lot of us. We can we can get to that later. how to find yourself as a human in vetmed. I think that's a great thing to dig into. I'm curious, though, did you have a lot of access to veterinarians where you grew up or like role models or anything like that?

Lillie Davis:

I did not. I started my veterinary journey volunteering for the ASPCA Manhattan. And that kind of opened the door for me to network and find other veterinarians in the Bronx. I was a kennel assistant in the Bronx. That was my first or my second like official role in the profession. And that was pretty cool because I immediately saw like, what that looks like to service pets in an area that is, you know, not rich. You know, for lack of a better way of describing it. And you know, after that I found other people in the profession, and I just kind of literally my network just expanded to working at a hospital in Park Avenue, which was completely different from the hospital in the Bronx. And, you know, that's where I did my one year in between vet school and undergrad, just kind of learning more. But I think I'm just really lucky that I just the people that I needed to kind of help guide me through the process, I kind of found pretty easily every person I met just kind of introduced me to another person. And I think that's just how this profession works, which is the beautiful part of it. Honestly, it's just so small, that it allows you to develop this wide network. But I mean, I had mentors in school, who advocated for me, and I think that that's where it all started, that I was, quote, unquote, gifted. So I would, you know, start off in the public school system in the Bronx, in the classroom, and my teachers would tell my mom, like, she doesn't belong in this class, she needs to go to another more gifted class. And I think I just had advocates and mentors along the way outside of it, my medicine, who just kind of helped guide me in the right direction. And my life truly is a combination of like luck and hard work. And I'm very grateful for it, you know, thinking about it, and saying it out loud, you know, looking at the statistics, like I shouldn't really be here. And that's a problem in and of itself, right? Like we mentioned it like, it shouldn't be so hard for people of color to get into this profession. But I truly think everyone from like my kindergarten teacher to, you know, my residency mentor for kind of helping me become the person I am.

Stacey Cordivano:

You said, You're lucky several times, but I think that can only be part of it. Right? Like you had to take advantage of the opportunities that you made for yourself. It sounds like so I think you're maybe not giving yourself enough credit.

Lillie Davis:

A lot of people say that.

Stacey Cordivano:

Did I read that you were the first person in your family to even go to college?

Lillie Davis:

Yes, that is correct.

Stacey Cordivano:

Did that feel like a lot of pressure? Or did that feel like even more difficult because people didn't even know what you were getting into? How did that sort of play out?

Lillie Davis:

Yeah, I mean, a lot of the pressure was put on me by myself, I've always been self motivated and driven, you know, my mom has always been very supportive. I was raised by a single mother. So you know, I didn't have a father figure. And she was not only raising me, but my older brother and sister. So you know, she did not for lack of being a good parent, she just didn't push me the way that I pushed myself. And I think that's just a genetic component of who I am, you know, I was the one who was like, you got to do your homework, you got to get A's like that. I guess I don't know where that came from. But it was kind of tough, because there was no role model to look up to, in how to apply to college and get to the place where I could, again, leave the ghetto. Honestly, it's where I was brought up. So it was tough. It seemed to happen with a lot of hard work. But it seemed to happen also in a very organic way. But being the only one to achieve what I've achieved, it's still something that is hard to wrap my head around. I always joke that my family has no idea what I do. They know that I'm a doctor and I treat animals but like, that's it, you know, that's the extent of it there. And there's no way for them to really know what that means. And they're all very proud. And it's great, but it can be a bit lonely. And I think that adds to the imposter syndrome for me a lot of the times. I'm like, do I really belong here?

Stacey Cordivano:

Yeah, the word I was kind of thinking of is like, Did you feel alienated from your community? Even like friends or family? or?

Lillie Davis:

Yeah, definitely. If you want to get really deep into it, I mean, I was made fun of in school because I was like, the the nerdy girl, you know, I didn't talk the way my peers spoke. So I always, to a certain degree, felt like an outsider even at home. So that that was a bit tough. And it's very nuanced, you know, topic, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way in terms of, you know, people of color in the professional setting. But yeah, it was definitely a bit lonely. I mean, it still continues to be to some degree.

Stacey Cordivano:

I was gonna ask next. I know you went to Cornell for vet school. I have to imagine you felt fairly alone there. One of my best friends is black and went to Cornell. But I know there weren't that many classmates. So you went from one community within yourself feeling alone to another? I imagine that's probably how it played out.

Lillie Davis:

Yeah, yeah. It's funny you mentioned like Cornell because I remember my first day of vet school, like undergrad was different at undergrad is very diverse.

Stacey Cordivano:

Where did you go to undergrad?

Lillie Davis:

Cornell?

Stacey Cordivano:

Oh you did? Okay. Okay.

Unknown:

So like undergrad, I was surrounded by people who looked like me. You know, there was the minority community groups and fraternities. That was great. But then when I got got to vet school, the first day, I remember sitting in the auditorium for orientation, my class was all present. And I look literally look around, and I'm like, Alright, so there's going to be at least one other black person, right? Like, there has to be at least maybe two, three of us. I look around, like three times, and I was the only one. And I was like, You're kidding, right? Like, I'm the only not the only person of color. But I was the only black person. And I was like, This is insane. Like, and I had to even ask, I think I asked the dean, I was like, Is there any one else who's black in this class? And they're like, no. Meanwhile, I'm the class ahead of me and below me, there's at least note two to three black people. So from day one of this profession, I was like, What is going on? Like, why am I the only black person here and I used to joke about it with my good friends, my close friends, I'd be like, I'm the token black person. I think that was just my way of coping with the disappointment of it all. But yeah, that day is stuck in my head. It was just mind blowing. I didn't even know how to process it.

Stacey Cordivano:

I can't imagine. I don't think we had any people of color in my class. Anyway, I'm not sure we're gonna solve that problem for vet schools. Although I am curious, if you have thoughts on whether it's purely like an access to the idea that people of color can become veterinarians? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Unknown:

I mean, I think it's a very layered issue in that, I don't think people of color can afford veterinary care. So there's, that's one thing, you know, a lot of people I know from home don't have money to spend on the pets that they do have. So that's probably number one. And then, so there's no access there, because they don't use it. So they don't know that it's available. And then, you know, there's not a lot of black veterinarians to begin with. So you can't see yourself in the profession that doesn't represent you appropriately. And then I think the biggest issue, which I kind of look back on is the financial component. I mean, I, like most people in my career owe the government like six figures, and I'm coming from poverty, you know, like, I grew up poor. And now I owe more money than like, I mean, I basically owe a house you don't know what y'all call it kind of our like mental investment. But I don't think many people who don't have money to begin with can afford to become veterinarians. And I think we're going to have a really tough time allowing us minorities to join the profession if we don't make it affordable across the board. So I don't see us overcoming this without debt being forgiven, you know, and it making it easier, because I can't say that if you told me Hey, like, you can do this, but you're gonna owe X amount of money. And maybe that'll put your dreams on hold of buying house and having a kid and like, I don't know, if I would have done it. And that's just coming from the point of like, I grew up poor, and now I feel like, in a way, just indebted to the government the rest of my life. So it's pretty tough. But I think that that's, that's gonna be the first challenge is of course, you know, exposure, but like, yeah, you put this idea in front of a child or a teenager who and say, Hey, by the way, you're gonna owe like, 1000s upon 1000s of dollars. Sounds great. They're gonna be like, no, right?!

Stacey Cordivano:

Yeah, the number you can't even fathom, right? And I think even for me, I mean, I graduated with 220,000 in debt. I didn't come from the mindset of poverty. So like, I knew that if things were really bad, my parents would help me out a month or you know, things like that. I think even just the perspective I come from is so different from the perspective that you go on. Like, I didn't want $200,000 in debt either. But I just also didn't have think about it that hard, because it was just like what you had to do to be that it would work itself out. Yeah. So yeah, I think that's a great point. Okay. So Cornell for undergrad and vet school. And then then where'd you go next?

Unknown:

I went to Indiana. For my internship, which was like, culture shock is not even the word I was like, Where the hell am I? It was crazy, but it was one of the best years of my life is most challenging year, but one of the best years so I went to Indiana for my Purdue University. Okay, so yeah, I had no choice because it was matched as you were aware, like you apply and you get what you get. And that's it. So I got Indiana, and I was like, Oh, my God. It's pretty awesome. And then I went back to Cornell for my residency. So I tell everyone, I spent a third of my life at Cornell. And it's technically my second home. I say, it's my second home to New York City, because I just grew up there. And sometimes I think about going back as a little safety blanket. But at the end of the day, I'm like, it's time to maybe not live in Ithaca.

Stacey Cordivano:

It's pretty though.

Unknown:

Love it there. Yeah.

Stacey Cordivano:

You are outside of Philadelphia now in private practice. Can you tell us a little bit about being a veterinary oncologist?

Unknown:

Yeah. So you know, as a veterinary oncologist, I see small animals, cats and dogs with cancer, which is one of the top causes of death in humans and in animals really. So it's very, very, very common issue, and very scary. for everybody involved. I, you know, see cases who get very involved in million days of treatments, you know, a lot of my work is also palliative to an end of life. So you know, it is a specialty that does take a lot of empathy and awareness. And while the medical aspect is really cool, and that's what you know, drew me to it partially, I think it's also the human animal bond that is just emphasize at the end of an animal's life that we all love about being vets and being animal lovers. But like, there's something different about guiding a patient and their owner through literally the end of their life that is challenging and rewarding in a very strange way. A lot of people when they think of oncology and cancer, they're like, Oh, it's depressing. I don't know how you do that. Like, everyone's like, oh, what do you do? And I'm like, I'm a veterinarian. I'm like, actually, I'm a psychologist, and they're like, oh, like, 80% of the time. People like, that sounds great. I like it. Because for the most part, and I wouldn't be doing this otherwise, for the most part, I make their lives better, and not just my patients, my clients, you know, and that sounds weird. But no, it's truly mostly happy. It's sad. But like, once you get through the reality of the situation, which is the animals going to pass away from this, but how can we make their lives better in the interim, like, that's where the joy comes from, in terms of seeing them be? Well, you know, in spite of this terrible diagnosis, and there's some terrible stuff that happens. So, you know, that's my day to day job. It's, of course, you know, I push chemo too, but at the same time, like, I feel like my job is way more than that. It's just explaining to these clients like what's going on, like taking cancer, which is just even sometimes to me, I'm like, what is happening, I don't understand this, but taking something so complex and nuanced, and, you know, kind of watering it down so that the owner can just understand, like, these are your options, but mostly, I just want your animal to feel good. Like I don't really, really care what my clients decide to do. I don't I tell them that all the time, you know, whether you decide to do treatment or not, I don't really care about that. I just want your animal to not suffer. And I want them to what I call, this is my little catchphrase tiny little Buddhas, I want them to be blissfully unaware of their disease for as long as possible, whether it's a week, a month, you know, a day years, which is awesome. It's not common, but it's possible. So that's what I do. And I, I it's hard, but I do love it. It's amazing. But it's it's challenging, very, very challenging.

Stacey Cordivano:

I can imagine. So I guess that's a good segue into sort of well being and all veterinarians obviously, need help him. To say the least. Yeah. I'm curious, especially, you know, in your part of the field, are there things that you do? Have you always been good about your own well being and self care? How do you manage all that?

Unknown:

I'm still figuring it out, to be quite honest. Like, I'm not gonna pretend I have this like regimen that makes me superhuman and immune to all things. Up until after residency, I did not take care of myself, like this profession came first. You know, getting A's and super-exceeding my expectations far surpassed my self care. It did catch up to me at like, probably one of the worst times. I don't think I've told this story publicly before, but when I was studying for my oncology boards, back in 2018, I was like, so unhealthy, and I had gained a lot of weight over my internship and residency. And just like, was not taking care of myself for many different reasons. I also don't think that the system is set up for us to take care of ourselves. But that's a side note. But you know, working 60-80 hours a week as a resident and always being on call and never really being able to, like do anything outside of, you know, study and be on clinics. I reached a point where when I went to the doctor, I was like, I don't feel well like I was having really bad anxiety attacks. Like I went to the ER multiple times thinking I was having a heart attack and in fact, it was xiety attacks from boards and just not taking care of myself. You know, I was diagnosed with type two diabetes, and I had to be put on medication. This is all the week before my boards and I was like, okay, like, got it. Like this is what my my current journey has led me to and thankfully, I took boards and I passed, I got through it, but after that, I was like, okay, you Can't put this profession first anymore, like, otherwise you're going to die. And that's basically what my doctor told me. And but so many words. So I'd say since then since finishing residency and thankfully, you know, nothing a resident does allow for that flexibility and time, if you put boundaries up, which we can talk about to, to take care of yourself, I've done that, but it's still not perfect. And it's hard, and it's different. And it changes every day, I give most of my well being success, credit to my therapists. You know, I currently have a therapist right now, you know, I had one immediately after residency. And I truly wish if I had one wish for the entire world, that everyone could have one therapist in their life, because I think we'd all be better human beings to ourselves and to each other. And I say this to everybody. I'm like, please, I know, it's not readily accessible, which is another issue. But like, please get a therapist like it's life changing. That's my biggest, I guess, secret really, it's not even a secret is I go to therapy weekly, because without it, and I've done this without a therapist for so long. It's It's too hard. It's just really tough. But my therapists have been phenomenal.

Stacey Cordivano:

I feel the same way about therapy, I probably don't go as regularly as I should. And then as far as this self care, like putting yourself first it took me a bit of a health explosion, not quite as bad as yours. But it was just a lot of things all at once, and my kids at the same time. And I feel like that's a story you hear a lot. And I just wish it didn't take some major event for a veterinarian to be like, Oh, that's right. I actually matter.

Lillie Davis:

Just kidding, I'm made of flesh and bones.

Stacey Cordivano:

I am not a robot. Yeah, I just I mean, I guess that's sort of the fundamental basis of this podcast, right? As if someone can hear one thing that maybe helps them realize that, yeah, yeah. Because it just seems like that takes some major thing or this diagnosis or, you know, XYZ for people to realize that our jobs are not more important than us. I thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate that.

Lillie Davis:

Thank you.

Stacey Cordivano:

Boundaries, let's go to boundaries, because I think that's also hugely important in this whole realm of things. Have you always been good at boundaries? Oh, no. Is that help from the therapist?

Unknown:

No, yes, yeah. 100%. Like, I remember, my first therapist would always say, Lily, leave your like healing and taking care of others and patient care. Leave that at work. You know, I think we're all US veterinarians in general. We're all healers. And we're all people who are empathetic, and we want to help, not just animals, but the world, you know. So she was the first one to be like, you got to stop trying to save and heal everybody and everything outside of yourself. So that was kind of my first introduction to like, Oh, interesting. Like, God, oh, wow. Focus on myself a little bit. It's been, I'm 33 going on 34 in two months. I'd say my 30s so far has been the decade of boundaries. Prior to that zero, I had none, I would say yes to everything. I cared so much about what other people thought, if it meant I would lose sleep, but I would still have that great reputation, or I'd save that pet or, I don't know, I would put myself dead last literally last week. And I'm kind of pissed at myself. But I'm glad it happened. Because I was like, never again, you know, and my 30s have been a year of like saying no. And just feeling okay about it. And not just saying no, just for saying no sake, but just truly asking myself, is this something that I want to do? And if so, why am I doing it, and basically trying to do a lot of thought work in, in changing who I am and how I feel, and realizing that like, if I take care of myself, like I'm just a better person, you know, to everybody, my clients, my significant other my family, like my pets, my friends. And that's been a really hard pill to swallow. It's still a work in progress. But setting those boundaries, I think, is something that we're not taught. And I know I'm not alone in that I took care of myself very little during my training years, but I think boundaries are necessary with everybody yourself, with clients with pets with friends, family, like everybody, everything, the internet, your phone, like everything needs, you need boundaries around all of these things. And it's an it's a new catchphrase. And it's nice, but like, at the end of the day, like I really do think that that needs to be taught more.

Stacey Cordivano:

Yeah, because it's hard work. And it's not like you do it and it's like, fixed it's like just continual work on it. And it's it's hard if you've already don't have time and you're spread too thin to then like make time to do that thought I understand that it's hard. But I also agree with everything you said. It's imperative Yeah, for our mental well being. Well, thanks so much for spending some time with me. And this was really fun getting to know you. Thank you for having me, it was awesome. Your story's amazing. Anything else you want to share with listeners?

Lillie Davis:

I guess I would just say like, take care of yourself. If I've learned one thing this year, I think we've all learned it. But life is short. Like it's really, really, really short. And we've we've that we vet professionals, everyone, vet nurses, CSR is included. You know, we spend a lot of our time caring for others. And I really, really think that if it hasn't started already, starting today, like putting yourself first and not in a selfish way, and in a way that is loving to yourself, so that you can love others is probably the best thing we can do overall. So I would say Take care of yourselves. And that way we can take care of each other. Because otherwise, we're just gonna keep talking about the same problems for the next you know, forever.

Stacey Cordivano:

I love that. I do ask all my guests. What is one small thing that has brought you joy this past week?

Unknown:

Oh, yeah. one small thing that's brought me joy this past week is I got to spend time with my mother, and she turned 60. So we spent

Stacey Cordivano:

Happy birthday, Mom,

Unknown:

thanks. We spend time celebrating her 60th which is huge. And Mother's Day, so that brought me joy, because a year ago, I was like, I don't think that's gonna happen.

Stacey Cordivano:

So fun, super fun. Is there anywhere that you'd like people to find you or connect with you anywhere.

Unknown:

You can find me on LinkedIn at Lillie Davis. And then I have my credentials listed after or @drlilliedavis on Instagram.

Stacey Cordivano:

Cool. I'll make sure to link those. Thanks again for your time.

Lillie Davis:

Thank you so much. It's so much fun.

Stacey Cordivano:

Thank you again, Dr. Davis for your honesty and vulnerability in this episode. I truly believe that her advice about taking care of ourselves being number one priority is so important. But it's also so easy to push aside. I've made sure to link the free month from betterhelp in the show notes. That's an arrangement with not one more event to allow veterinarians to have easier access to online therapy. So go check that out if you have any interest. Thanks again for sharing some of your precious time with me this week. If you enjoy this show, please share with a friend and you can also leave a review on Apple podcasts if you feel so inclined. Have a great week and I'll talk to you again soon.