Member Spotlight: Jody Lulich, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (SAIM)

Feb 6, 2023, 15:20 PM by Michelle Hardy, Member Engagement Specialist

An interview with Jody Lulich, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (SAIM), Professor of Internal Medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Jody Lulich is the director of the Minnesota Urolith Center. He specializes in nephrology and urology and has earned an international reputation as a clinical investigator and educator in this field. Dr. Lulich has published over 100 refereed manuscripts, 200 book chapters, and has been awarded over $6,000,000 in funded research.  Among his contributions to veterinary medicine is the technique of voiding urohydropropulsion, a nonsurgical method to remove uroliths in seconds from the urinary bladder.

In 2007, Dr. Lulich was voted as Speaker of The Year at the North American Veterinary Conference held in Orlando, Florida, and was awarded the Norden-Pfizer-Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award in 2001 & 2013.  He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Tuskegee Veterinary Alumni Association in March of 2009, and the Mark L. Morris Lifetime Achievement Award in January of 2012.  A published memoir of his veterinary career path, In the Company of Grace: A Veterinarian's Memoir of Trauma and Healing, will be released this April. Dr. Lulich is the 2023 President of the R.O.C.K. (Research on Calculi Kinetics) Society, the first veterinarian to hold this office.  He has two dogs, one cat and studies classical piano. 

The description of your upcoming memoir, In the Company of Grace: A Veterinarian’s Memoir of Trauma and Healing, touches on how you were attracted to veterinary medicine because caring for animals helped you to heal. Can you explain a bit more about why veterinary medicine was so appealing to you as a career?

This question is difficult for me.  It brings me heartache and joy.  When I was 9 years old, my mother died. We were running late to the funeral.  I was dawdling because I really did not want to go.  I was the last one to leave the house and get in the car.  My father was driving.  Half way there, a dog unexpectedly darted out from an alley in the direction of our car.  My father did not see the dog and our car hit the dog.  

My father would have normally stopped to help the dog.  However, in our rush to get to the funeral on time, he did not stop. My father was also distraught and maybe did not know how to carefully explain to my brother and me what just happened, another catastrophe and another loss. However, by keeping silent and continuing to drive, he would not comprehend the emotional toll that the event had on me. Having just lost my mother, I knew what it was like to experience the loss of a loved one.  Becoming a veterinarian allowed me some semblance of repaying a debt for an incident that I felt partially responsible for. 

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The description of your memoir also mentions “bright moments (and many curious details) of veterinary practice.” Could you share a bright moment and curious detail from your years in veterinary medicine?

While finishing veterinary school, I decided that becoming a pathologist would suit me best.  Having experienced the loss of my mother as a child, I felt as if I could not face the inevitable losses of a practicing clinician.  However, my career path changed during my internship.  Carl Osborne, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota asked if I wanted to do a residency and PhD in internal medicine.  At first I told him no, not realizing the importance and status of the person asking me to stay.  Dr. Osborne was one of the founding fathers of the ACVIM.  He saw something in me that I did not see in myself.  If it was not for his persistence, I would not be an internist and I would have not experienced the joy of solving medical problems and the appreciation from clients for helping them at all stages of care for their beloved dogs and cats.

Carl Osborne was instrumental in another part of my development.  With his encouragement and guidance, I became a teacher.  My mother died of acute kidney injury.  Teaching my students how to prevent, reverse and manage acute kidney injury forced me to relive the pain and heartbreak of losing my mother, but at the same time gave me the satisfaction and joy of realizing that by teaching my students to successfully manage this and other urinary diseases, my students and their clients would hopefully forego some of the pain and heartbreak that has plagued me most of my life.

Your book will touch on several of the challenges you faced throughout your life and how you overcame them. Can you describe some of the challenges you experienced in your journey to becoming a veterinary specialist?

Sometimes people think that they know you so well that they can tease or taunt you without it affecting you.  Typically, these remarks are good-natured and sources of laughter. However, sometimes they feel cruel and cutting.  At the end of our veterinary school internship, the interns, for want of a better term, were “roasted.”  Many perceived this event as endearing and a time to laugh off the awkwardness of a grueling year.  But sometimes the remarks were stinging. When it was my turn to be recognized, or shall I say, roasted, everything was in fun until the announcer said that I went to veterinary school to become a watermelon doctor.  I may have smiled to mimic the rest of the audience’s response, but all the while, I was gritting my teeth to hide the embarrassment.  Jody Lulich_1

Being the only African American, I felt uncomfortable.  It was an all too familiar stereotype and carried historical pains of growing up Black in America.  At the time, I was not in a position nor possessed the courage to say how I felt.  Neither was the announcer humble enough to check in with me later.  You learn to overcome these unfortunate events and not let them suck away your energy and passion.  In this and other similar situations, I rise above it by doing my best, by relentlessly helping others, by going the extra mile with my patients and clients, and by coming to understand that what I heard might not have been what was intended. 

We all have said inappropriate things that we wish we could take back or at the least explain ourselves when our words were not taken the way we intended.  I hope that when that happens, we check in with those who received the brunt of our jokes to reassure them that the remarks were not made out of malice.  Sometimes we forget or do not realize the importance and power of saying I am sorry.  

Would you say that veterinary medicine, and particularly veterinary specialty medicine, has changed or progressed in terms of diversity and inclusion since you entered the field? What, if any, changes or improvements would you like to see in the future?

Jody Lulich_2I like to think of myself as an optimist and so I try to see others in the same light. I also believe that the veterinary profession; its doctors, staff, and students; possess a compassion gene (if there is such a gene) that allows us to see beyond a scarcity mentality and generously help our patients and one another.  I feel that there have been improvements.  I have received kindness and support from so many around me.  But I also feel that we can do more. 

In the future, I hope that we will think of our differences as opportunities instead of threats.  Veterinary Medicine has been a wonderful career that has given me the opportunity to make a positive difference in my patients and for their pet parents, the students that I have taught, and my colleagues.  It has made me feel as if I matter, that I have something positive to contribute, and that I belong here.  For those who have helped and encouraged me, I sincerely say thank you for the opportunity.

In the Company of Grace: A Veterinarian’s Memoir of Trauma and Healingwill be available April 11. 

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