Interview Series: Getting to Know Vetgirl’s Dr. Justine Lee

I recently had the opportunity to meet and network with Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT, and creator of Vetgirl. vetgirl-on-the-runShe is truly a female, entrepreneurial veterinarian advancing our profession in all the right ways. Meeting her at AVMA Convention, along with the WVLDI workshop the day before inspired me to start an interview segment to my blog. I was hoping it would be less work than original material. Instead, I found myself editing and rejoicing in the abundant material her career provided. As a result, the first Veterinary Brainstorm Interview with Justine Lee will be broken into 2 parts:

Part 1: Getting to Know Vetgirl’s Dr. Justine Lee

  1. When/why did you decide veterinary medicine was the path for you? (Don’t just say “because humans are gross!”)

Dr. Lee has wanted to be vet since she was 7 years old after finding an injured baby robin and nursing it back to health. Her parents were extremely supportive of her career choice, despite the “traditional” Chinese culture of prioritizing human medical school over veterinary school!

  1. Your favorite vet school memory? Worst vet school memory?

Don’t let Dr. Lee’s tremendous success fool you. Like many success stories there were some failures along the way that she overcame against all odds. Her 1st year at Cornell Veterinary College proved to be exceptionally difficult, partly due to the intense, brand new problem-based learning (PBL) style. In addition, each exam carried a high weight in proportion to the final grade (e.g., all of your anatomy semester being assessed in one final exam). During her first year, Dr. Lee contemplated transferring to a different college with a more traditional learning style, but ended up sticking it out at Cornell. She, like many vet students, struggled with the intense competitive nature and curriculum that vet school entails. (FYI, traditional vet school curriculum can induce some major test anxiety based on my own personal experience.) Despite the challenges, in hindsight Dr. Lee feels the non-didactic, case-based curriculum made her into a stronger clinician faster.

Dr. Lee’s favorite vet school memory was during her fourth year. She was scrubbed in on a hemoabdomen and splenectomy with the surgical resident. Due to the critically ill nature of the patient, the anesthesiologist informed the surgeon, “get out now,” then turned off the gas anesthetic, which required expedited surgery. With quick speed between her and the resident, the dog survived. Perhaps this is when Dr. Lee fell in love with the intensity of emergency medicine.

Click her for more information on the problem based learning style: 

  1. From one Hokie to another, what is your favorite Virginia Tech Blacksburg memory?

Like myself, Dr. Lee is originally from a more urban environment in the Northeast. Also like myself, she attended Virginia Tech, not for veterinary school, but as an undergraduate Hokie.  Her favorite memory as a Hokie was experiencing the rural area and the animal science program. She was active in the local culture, attending the VA state fair and embracing all that Appalachia can offer.

  1. What did you enjoy most about your internship? The least?

Dr. Lee completed her internship at Angell Memorial, one of the most competitive and demanding programs in the country in Boston, MA. Her year was comprised of 100+ hours/week. Her most rewarding case involved a Bichon Frise with cutaneous hemangiosarcoma and chronic valvular heart disease. This was one of her most rewarding cases of the year!

While that year was no doubt a stressful and difficult year, Dr. Lee was excited about the amount of clinically relevant knowledge she acquired in a short amount of time. Based on my own internship experience I would agree as well, however, I am grateful I only worked 80+ hours/week.

After her internship, Dr. Lee spent one year teaching in the community practice service at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and anatomy lab at her alma mater, Cornell.

  1. What did you enjoy most about your residency? The least?

Dr. Lee completed her emergency fellowship and residency in Emergency and Critical Care (ECC) at the distinguished University of Pennsylvania. Her second year proved tough and stressful, as she struggled with personal issues, including insomnia. She persevered and by her last year she was “prepared and confident to treat anything that walked in the door,” quite a feeling she reports.

  1. Your bio mentions you are a foodie, what is your favorite restaurant or type of food and why?

Dr. Lee would not commit to one food type. She enjoys all types of food, but values quality ingredients. Some of her favorite spots around the U.S .are:

  • Buddakan in Philadelphia
  • Cat Bird Seat in Nashville
  • Alma in Minneapolis
  • Art of the Table in Seattle
  1. You recently became boarded in toxicology (DABT), what made you decide to choose that specialty in addition to DACVECC? What was entailed in becoming DABT?

After teaching at the University of Minnesota veterinary college, she decided to switch careers (always an option in veterinary medicine), and became the associate director for an Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) in Minneapolis, MN. Due to her new position, she decided to become boarded as a Diplomate of American Board Toxicology (DABT), which requires a minimum of 4 years full -time work experience and a board exam.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Vetgirl’s Veterinary Career Morsels

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