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When a Pet’s Cancer Diagnosis Inspires a Career in Veterinary Medicine

Apr 28, 2020

Lisa DiBernardi, DVM, DACVIM (Medical Oncology), and DACVR (Radiation Oncology)

There is a small group of dual-boarded medical and radiation veterinary oncologists in the world. Dr. Lisa DiBernardi had aspirations of being an exotic veterinarian or veterinary surgeon during her studies at Louisiana State University.  It wasn’t until her adopted and beloved golden retriever, Harley was diagnosed with cancer that she realized she wanted to specialize in oncology. By the time Dr. DiBernardi was a senior in veterinary school, Harley had been diagnosed with four different types of cancer. It was then, Dr. DiBernardi realized she wanted to spend her career guiding pet owners in a similar situation.

Like many veterinarians, Dr. DiBernardi grew up an animal lover. She bathed and groomed dogs in high school, volunteered at local animal shelters, and knew she wanted to work in animal health. She started her veterinary career as a licensed veterinary technician working at Plum Island Animal Disease Center. While obtaining her bachelor’s degree and working as a vet tech, a friend convinced her to apply to veterinary school.

 

Dr. DiBernardi with her rottweiler, Tank, who recently passed from aggressive cancer.

After graduating from Louisiana State University in 1999, Dr. DiBernardi completed an internship at Veterinary Specialists of South Florida. She went on to complete the first of two oncology residencies, one at Purdue University in oncology, and a second at LSU in radiation oncology, with her love for Harley fueling her drive the entire time. Her dad often joked that he had two daughters—one he couldn’t get into school, and one he couldn’t get out of school.

Today, Dr. DiBernardi leads the radiation oncology department at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists (GCVS), a Compassion-First hospital in Houston, Texas. Since 2014, she has built a strong and loyal oncology team at GCVS, and she believes she wouldn’t be where she is today without their support. She takes a team approach asking for their feedback and ideas, Dr. DiBernardi says her team is just as much a part of the patients’ treatment as she is.

“My team is part luck and part blessing,” she said. “The people I work with are dedicated, loyal and customer service -driven. They truly care, and love what they do.”

Dr. DiBernardi loves to teach, and is always ensuring her team collaborates together so they all feel engaged in patient care.

“I love meeting pet owners who love and adore their animals,” said Dr. DiBernardi, when asked what aspect of her job impacts her the most. “I love seeing their unique bonds and interactions.”

Dr. DiBernardi and the radiation oncology team.

Since joining GCVS, Dr. DiBernardi has seen first-hand the many benefits of partnering with Compassion-First Pet Hospitals, and says the partnership has allowed her to have the best of both worlds.

“Partnering with Compassion-First allows GCVS to maintain our family atmosphere but also have cutting edge equipment to deliver the best patient care,” she said. “The partnership also allows me to collaborate with other Compassion-First hospitals all over the country. It feels like one giant family. I no longer have to take focus away from my tasks to problem solve small tasks, instead, I can focus on delivering the best medicine.”

In addition to seeing patients, Dr. DiBernardi volunteers her professional services at special event venues with canine detection teams. She has also treated several cancer patients at the Miami Metro Zoo, El Paso Zoo, and Shy Wolf Sanctuary. Dr. DiBernardi’s professional interests include clinical pathology and pain management with a focus on improving the patient’s quality of life.

Dr. DiBernardi, volunteering with the El Paso Zoo elephant care team.

Outside of work, Dr. DiBernardi loves spending time with her 14-year-old cat, Caliche, being outdoors, traveling, and exercising. She thinks about Harley, her inspiration for becoming a veterinary oncologist, often along with the beautiful patients and clients, she has met along the way.

At Compassion-First, we proudly support Dr. DiBernardi, as well as other veterinarians and their teams who are committed to advancing care and improving patient outcomes. Being part of Compassion-First allows for a vast network of hospitals and veterinary professionals to collaborate and share knowledge so they can become leaders and pioneers of the latest medical treatments, tools, and training. In doing so, we ensure every pet is offered the most effective care and treatment plan possible.

That’s the Power of Us.

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