Honoring a Memory

Malcolm Kram, D.V.M. ’74 & Gillian Lawrence, D.V.M. ’19

The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is one of the first veterinary programs to offer a scholarship dedicated to LGBTQ students. This is thanks to Malcolm Kram, D.V.M. ’74, who established the Anna and Hyman Greenberg Scholarship in 2005 to honor his grandparents. Gillian Lawrence, D.V.M. ’19, was the recipient of this scholarship for the Class of 2019. She and Kram spoke about its impact and what has changed in veterinary medicine since his time at the college. You can listen their entire conversation here.

Gillian Lawrence: I’ve noticed that it’s been sort of difficult to cultivate an LGBT support community at the college. I know we’ve had clubs in the past — Broad Spectrum, Homophiliacs — that have existed in order to support that particular demographic, but they sort of come and go.

Veterinary students are a pretty transient community, so sometimes the needs of specific groups fall by the wayside. It seems like it’s something that has to be an active process that the administration needs to have a hand in.

Malcolm Kram: I totally agree with you, Gillian. I can’t say it better than you have. It’s kind of a silent community. It’s a silent minority. And now with marriage being legal across the U.S., I think there are some people who think, “Well, we don’t have to deal with this. It’s just all going to happen, and it’s not a concern of ours.”

a graphic illustration of a rainbow flag.

Back in the old days — and when I say that, I mean about 45 years ago when I was a student — you wouldn’t dare mention the words or say anything about being a lesbian or a gay man, let alone being a transgender person. You would be ridiculed, and it was just not the environment in which this could have happened. So from my perspective, I’m thrilled that we can continue and that the scholarship [Anna and Hyman Greenberg Scholarship] is there to encourage it.

Lawrence: You mentioned the climate in 1974 when you graduated from Cornell. Could you describe a little bit more what the veterinary college was like in the ’70s, in general?

Kram: I tell some people it was like a Catholic school, and being Jewish, I shouldn’t know what that’s like. But it was the years of the Greenies, and I don’t know if you’ve heard anybody talk about the Greenies, but all the students from freshman to seniors had to wear these green uniforms. So it was very much a closed group. It was very formal.

We didn’t know about laptops, let alone Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Androids. These were not topics that we discussed, so, indeed, it has changed tremendously both from my perspective in the way that veterinary medicine is taught, as well as the atmosphere in which you’re learning.

Lawrence: Wow. That does sound very different.

Kram: Speaking of diversity, the other thing I should mention is that we only had five women in our class.

Lawrence: Wow!

Kram: We had one African American student, and we had one Chinese American. We had, to my understanding, the biggest class of women at that point in time. So that’s pretty much changed these days.

A graphic illustration of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine shaded in vibrant rainbow colors.

Lawrence: That’s completely different from what it is now. And it seems like, in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, we’ve made a lot of strides. I can see even the incoming classes after me are increasingly more racially and ethnically diverse, so I think that’s been a great achievement as well. In terms of the LGBT community, it’s something that’s sort of hard to quantify. So I think that’s a challenge in terms of admissions.

Kram: So tell me about your class and the diversity of your classmates. You talked about people of color being in the class and the different ethnic backgrounds. How about as far as their areas of interest? Is everybody going to do an internship? Is that what their hope is?

Lawrence: First of all, my class is definitely predominantly female. The ratio is the opposite of what it used to be. But I would say we’re fairly racially and ethnically diverse. We still don’t have very many African American, or black, students in our class, but I do see the classes after us looking a little bit better in that respect.

I think we’re pretty well mixed in terms of our future career plans. I think most of us are still small animal-focused. Maybe about 50-50 internship, probably more going into general practice, although I’m not entirely sure. And then we have a good proportion of large animal folks, exotics folks, and wildlife-oriented people, so it’s a pretty good mix in that respect, in terms of interest.

We now have the M.P.H. program housed at the veterinary college at Cornell, and I think they’re bringing a whole new energy into the space as well, especially in terms of diversity and activism. We don’t interact with them much, but we share the space, and we definitely can feel their influence, which is cool.

Kram: I think that program is long overdue. My spouse happens to be a physician, and when I speak to physicians and I talk about veterinarians and M.P.H. degrees, they look at me with this look, like, why would a veterinarian be involved in public health?

I do think we have a long way to go. In talking to Dean Warnick and also former Dean Kotlikoff, when they were initially discussing this, their focus was to bring both human medicine students, and veterinary medicine students, and other healthcare professionals together so that, hopefully, by the time you’re celebrating your 45th reunion year, physicians will have a different perspective on the veterinary profession.

Lawrence: Yes, I hope so!

Kram: As for the students in your class, do you think that they’re a cohesive group? I know my class was a very tightly-knit group; we numbered 60 in 1974, and I know your class size has increased. Is everybody working together, or do you find that, no, there are cliques within the group?

Lawrence: I think my class is a little bit unique because the school was undergoing a lot of construction during our first couple of years, so there weren’t real spaces to congregate and hang out for a while. So my class is maybe not as cohesive as, say, the class before us or even the classes after us who get to enjoy our brand new atrium, and our new cafeteria, and all of those things.

Gillian Lawrence, D.V.M.’19, on stage at her 2019 White Coat ceremony.

Now what we’re on clinics we’re starting to get to know each other a lot better, and I think we’re developing a stronger sense of community as a class. But I know that’s something that a lot of my classmates and I lament a little bit is that we feel like we didn’t really have the opportunity early on to bond, but I’m sure we’ll all be in touch with each other and our relationships will strengthen over time as professionals.

I’ve made some amazing friends, really long-lasting, strong friendships in veterinary school. Despite everything I think I still have been able to make really strong bonds with some people.

Kram: And are you stressed out?

Lawrence: Oh, well, yeah. But I don’t think I’m any more stressed out than anybody else.

Kram: But you admit it — that’s what’s most important.

One of my favorite things, you’re going to laugh, was that a very good friend of mine in veterinary school who is, unfortunately, no longer with us — he passed away several years after graduation from severe heart disease — when he and I would get stressed out, we would go to Cayuga Heights and have donuts and coffee. And it was always that the sugar just worked really well to de-stress us.

Lawrence: Yes! I love that.

They say Millennials are very into self-care. Maybe we’re very willing to admit when we’re stressed out. Hopefully that self-care is effective. I don’t know if we know that quite yet.

We’re all pretty open with each other about how much work we have, how we’re feeling, and I think we’re also good at standing up for ourselves when we need a break. Making sure we assert ourselves and things like that. But it’s hard to say.

Do you think, when you were in school, people prioritized their wellness in the same way that people seem to be today?

Kram: That’s a great question, and my immediate response would probably be no. We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk about stress.

I would say that the women in my class are heroines for the stress that they were put through. The taunting, the comments that were said in the ’70s, which was totally acceptable at that time. The Women’s Movement was very nascent, and we had some very strong women in my class, several of whom I’m still very friendly with. Because of their strength, they have been able to create wonderful careers for themselves.

They were very strong, very bright women, and we were lucky for that. But clearly, I don’t think that the stress that…Nobody addressed their stress — let’s put it that way.

Lawrence: Yeah, the veterinary profession seems to have a strange, complicated relationship to gender in general. Even now that it’s so predominantly female, still, a lot of leadership positions are held by men. There’s some work to be done still there.

Kram: So I should applaud you when you become the Dean of Cornell Vet?

My favorite thing about being at Cornell has been clinics. They’re very stressful, but I think I just recently had the feeling for the first time that I knew what I was doing and all of my training was sort of coming together. … You learn so much so quickly, and then when you have that moment it’s incredible. It’s very fulfilling.

Gillian Lawrence, D.V.M. ’19

Lawrence: Well, I would say that’s not what I want, but you never know!

My favorite thing about being at Cornell has been clinics. They’re very stressful, but I think I just recently had the feeling for the first time that I knew what I was doing and all of my training was sort of coming together. I just got off an emergency rotation, and I felt like I could give thoughtful answers and manage a case. And that was the first time I had felt like that. I remember as a first-, second-, third-year, looking at the fourth-years and thinking, oh gosh, there’s no way that I’m ever going to be as confident and competent as them. You learn so much so quickly, and then when you have that moment it’s incredible. It’s very fulfilling.

Kram: That’s great.

Lawrence: If you have any advice for me as a fourth-year veterinary student graduating soon, I would strongly appreciate it.

Kram: That’s a question that I often get asked, and my short answer is to be flexible.

What I mean by that is — I know several veterinarians throughout my career who have been very unhappy, but they’ve been very regimented in what they think they want. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals, but I also think there’s benefit in taking risks. And I think I took risks when I left my practice, and I did the AVMA Congressional Science Fellowship, when I went into industry.

If you had asked me when I was in your position if I would ever consider working in industry, I would have said, “Are you kidding? That’s not why I’m in veterinary medicine!” I got to see the world because of Pfizer Animal Health. I got to meet veterinarians all over the world, and I developed a huge respect for their education and their knowledge.

If you ever get into a situation where an opportunity comes along, think about it, and potentially try it out. The worst that can happen is that you say, “No, this is not for me,” and you go back to where you were or you try something different.

A former boss of mine at Pfizer Animal Health always talked about the three-year cycle, and he was a big believer in if you try something, you should try it out for three years before saying it’s not working. And, if after three years, this is just not working, it’s time for a change.

Lawrence: That’s really good advice. I’ll keep that in the back of my mind. I think I might use that someday!

Kram: I’m glad that our scholarship was able to help you out. I’m hoping that people will continue to contribute to it so that more students can benefit from it, and I wish you all the luck and I hope we can keep in touch.

Lawrence: Yes, thank you very much.