An interview with Jessica Lawrence

March 26, 2019

Jennifer Lawrence and her dog MurphyLawrence with her dog Murphy in 2012. “He went with me through my internship, two residencies, a move to Georgia, and a move to Edinburgh, Scotland,” Lawrence says. Murphy developed a high-grade splenic undifferentiated sarcoma at age 11. “I treated him with surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy,” says Lawrence, “He lived another 19 months, which is really good for that type of tumor.”

Jessica Lawrence, DVM, DACVIM, DACVR, DECVDI (Radiation Oncology)
Associate professor of Radiation Oncology

Why did you become a veterinarian?

I decided at age 5 that I would be a vet. I think partly what drives many of us to veterinary medicine is a strong belief in the human-animal bond. Every animal deserves a life of dignity and we as veterinarians help to ensure that suffering is limited and the human-animal bond remains strong.

What about your job gets you out of bed each morning?

The opportunity to build the radiation oncology service as part of a comprehensive cancer care team here at the U of M has been motivating. I also cannot adequately stress how lucky I am to work with four dedicated, supportive, and extraordinary veterinary technicians on a daily basis. They make my job fun and rewarding, keep the service running smoothly, and always provide outstanding patient care. I trust their knowledge and skills implicitly and really cannot imagine working without them!

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Radiation therapy has had a tremendous impact in the fight against cancer in humans and pets. Many of these impacts have resulted from multi-disciplinary teams that work together to reach new milestones. I love being a part of an integrated team that is in pursuit of a shared mission. The opportunity to be involved in cross-disciplinary clinical research was a primary reason I wanted to be a part of the team here at the U of M. I now have the privilege of working with a vast array of talented people across the University, including the College of Veterinary Medicine, Medical School, and Masonic Cancer Center. These collaborations provide the motivation to continue learning and developing skills that make me a better clinician researcher.

What is your favorite part about working at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center?

In past jobs, I have practiced both medical oncology and radiation oncology. At the VMC, I get to focus on what I am most passionate about. I love radiation treatment planning, or the process of developing a radiation therapy plan that is unique to a particular patient’s tumor and conformation. As a radiation oncologist, I am always learning and developing new skills to keep up with advances in technology, and treatment planning lets me really apply new knowledge to patients.

What is your personal mission statement?

The fundamental core of my own beliefs is that veterinarians work to maximize dignity and minimize suffering. Ultimately, that is what we strive for with comparative oncology approaches—we want to push the envelope as much as we can in order to increase the likelihood that we control cancer while maintaining excellent quality of life. The technological advances we have rolled out at the VMC in the last two years let us better treat our patients to ensure that they have as much good time with their humans as possible.

What is one exciting new development in your department that you want everyone to know about?

Our oncology team understands how scary a diagnosis of cancer is for a beloved pet. The notion of pursuing radiation therapy can be daunting and there are many misconceptions about toxicity that can deter clients from considering treatment with radiation for their pets. Our collaborative oncology team is here to dispel some of these misconceptions and to set expectations so that clients can make informed decisions. We offer many of these advanced techniques here at the Veterinary Medical Center that improve the precision of radiation, which leads to better tumor control with less radiation toxicity—something we are very excited about!