Gator Vet Tails | May 2023

Resident, Medical Oncology

Dr. Leah Ackerman

UF Small Animal Hospital | Gainesville, FL

Leah Ackerman

Dr. Leah Ackerman is a current Resident at the UF Small Animal Hospital in the Medical Oncology Service on her journey of becoming a board-certified veterinary medical oncologist. Dr. Ackerman is a Double Gator and graduated from UF CVM in 2021. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 2017. After finishing her DVM, Dr. Ackerman went to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine where she completed a Small Animal Rotating Internship before returning to UF CVM. Dr. Ackerman has also conducted and contributed to research with areas of interest including Cancer Immunotherapy, Chemoresistance Pathways in Cancer, and Spatial Genomics.

What did you learn at UF CVM that you never thought you would benefit from?

During veterinary school, I didn’t realize or appreciate how much the communication, conflict resolution, and open-mindedness lectures/discussions would help in the real world both from a professional standpoint and a personal standpoint (ie with my marriage- lol & friendships). I’ll be honest, during veterinary school I prioritized getting good grades, gaining clinical knowledge, and focusing on “hard skills”. When in actuality, I think one of the most beautiful and wonderful things about the UF CVM curriculum is how much they focus on soft skills- communication, ethical dilemmas in the workplace, being a good person and a team player etc. I think I am a better veterinarian, friend, leader, and wife because of it.   

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in veterinary school?

I was always someone who was too shy and scared to ask questions out of fear of sounding unintelligent or unprepared. After being on the other side as an intern and now resident, I have come to realize that questions are a sign of interest rather than a sign of unpreparedness. Asking questions not only allows you to grow and flourish but also shows the world that you took the time to think about the case, physiology, disease process etc., and now want to know more. Speak up and ask your questions- you deserve to be here (ignore your imposter syndrome) and know that us residents and faculty love to see young minds interested enough to ask questions in our various specialties. 

Is there anything in the veterinary field you would like to see change?

I would love to see a more positive culture for veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and staff alike. I think we are becoming more aware of the negative implications that a poor work culture, unappreciated staff, and overworked veterinarians have. However, I hope that we can work together as a community to promote a positive empowering environment to minimize burnout and turnover.

I would also like to see veterinary medicine advance at a more comparable rate as human medicine. In the last 10 years, the pet industry has grown exponentially and people are willing to care more for and spend more on their pets. I would love to see us veterinarians rise to the occasion with providing greater access to cutting edge technology, partake in more advanced research, and make headway with treating currently terminal diseases like cancer. In my field specifically, I would love to utilize and incorporate a more individualized approach, aka precision medicine, to treat our cancer patients, like the human side often does.

What is your favorite thing about your current place of employment?

I love the people. Ever since I was a veterinary technician here at UF CVM’s Cardiology Service in college, I dreamed of one day becoming a veterinarian at UF CVM. I loved the comradery and collaboration between the various services, the inspiration faculty provided residents and residents provided students, and our wonderful clientele that will truly do anything for their pets. The university of Florida is a very special place and I am forever grateful for the wonderful gator community who has made me into the person and veterinarian I am today.  

What is the hardest part of working in the veterinary medicine field and how have you overcome this challenge?

I think the hardest part about being a veterinarian is that we don’t always feel as appreciated or respected as professionals in other fields (ie human doctors, lawyers, dentists etc). I think it is important not to constantly compare ourselves to others and remind ourselves of why we went into this field. For me, I went into this field because I have always loved science/medicine and was inspired by my parents who were human physicians, at a very young age. I try to remind myself that I chose veterinary medicine specifically because of the immensely powerful and beautiful human-animal bond, which ignited my passion at a young age and still to this day invigorates me. We, veterinarians, are critical members of society and although we don’t treat humans directly… we have tremendous impacts on people’s lives every day through our ability to keep their beloved pets healthy and happy.

How do you practice work-life balance?

Every day I try to get some form of exercise, even if it is just walking to and from UF CVM (equating to about 3 miles total). I also try to have 1 night per week dedicated to self-care, which includes putting on a facial mask, whitening my teeth, painting my nails, cleaning my house etc. I find these little tasks therapeutic and rewarding. Lastly, I think diet plays a critical role in our chronic mental well-being. I try to eat extremely clean during the week (low carb, high protein, unprocessed, only eating at home) and then allow myself to eat anything/everything over the weekend when out and socializing with friends. For me, this provides a healthy structure and balance in my life so that I don’t fall into unhealthy habits.

Do you have any career goals you are currently pursuing?

I am pursuing board certification in reptile/amphibian medicine through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). I am currently writing a research paper on gout in small Australian dwarf monitors and working on a case report on a bearded dragon.  

What is one of your fondest or most meaningful experiences from your career so far?

A goal of mine is to bridge the gap between academia & private practice. Once I graduate from residency, I really would love to find a way to do it all. I love the teaching, collaboration, and research that academia provides, but I also love the endless opportunities, autonomy, and flexibility that private practice allows. Ideally, I would like to have a part-time teaching position/recurring locum position here at UF while also being contracted at a private practice. I think this would allow more patients to be enrolled in clinical trials, broaden my horizon in terms of learning and leadership opportunities, and promote communication between specialty private practitioners and academic institutions.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy walking, yoga, hiking, trying new restaurants/craft cocktail bars, watching sports games with friends.

Do you have a hidden talent?

 I have never competed, but I am a very VERY fast walker. I can out walk just about anyone (jk I’m definitely exaggerating) … but I can out walk my father who is 6’5 with insanely long legs and is an amateur pro tennis player. My friends all make fun of me for walking excessively long distances instead of taking Ubers/driving.

How many and what type of pets do you have?

I have one 5-year-old French Bulldog, named Vinny. I adopted him when he was 8 months old from a family member. Vinny is my pride and joy. He lights up my life but is also often a source of stress given the combination of my neurotic vet mama nature and his numerous health problems (LOL).