Alumna Shout-out: Dr. Lisa Gillis

This interview, written by Philip Girvan, StFXAUT Communications Officer, appears in the Fall 2022 edition of The Beacon.

The Beacon regularly features interviews with StFX University Alumni on the topic of their relationships with StFXAUT Members who challenged, inspired, or helped in some way. This issue’s interview is with Dr. Lisa Gillis (B.Sc.‘94).

The Beacon: Thanks for doing this, Lisa. Please tell our readers a bit about yourself.

Lisa Gillis: I grew up predominantly in Labrador, but spent the last couple of years in Moncton, NB. I come from a family of Xaverians: my grandfather, my uncles, my parents, myself, my sister…

My husband would say that I’ve been indoctrinated into the StFX family since a very young age, and I have no problem with that. I graduated from StFX in 1994 and was accepted into medical school shortly thereafter. I trained as a family doctor. A subsequent training also was in palliative care, so I wear two hats. I recently moved back to Antigonish as a hospitalist, so I take care of in-patients from a family doctor perspective.

Photo courtesy Lisa Gillis

That’s “work me”. Family me: I’m married. Unfortunately, no children, but lots of dogs so they’re my StFX family.

I majored in Biology. I was always kind of in preparation to get to medical school. It’s funny: once I got to med school with a couple of my StFX friends, we complained that StFX didn’t have a med school because we would have stayed.

I graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Faculty of Medicine in 1998. A few of my fellow X-grads from the Biology and Chemistry Departments were also on that side of the pond. I participated in athletic programs and had the opportunity to hang out with people from a number of various fields.

The Beacon: What drew you to move back to Antigonish?

Lisa Gillis: Home: that’s what it feels like. Honestly it just feels like home. Fortunately, I’ve moved around the country a lot and with all my moves I’ve learned a lot about Canada.

When I first wanted to come back to Nova Scotia there wasn’t anything truly available for me at the time. So, subsequently, just in the past year or so there was a job opportunity that came up in Antigonish and I grabbed it. It’s nice to be home. There’s a sense of, the corniness aside, there’s a sense of family and, yeah, literally I came home which is nice.

The Beacon: During your time at X was there any particular Professor, Librarian, or Lab Instructor that helped you, inspired you, was a mentor to you?

Lisa Gillis: Over the years, I met some amazing, brilliant people and all of them helped me develop who I am as a physician.

The late Austina Newsome, who sadly passed away in 2019, was a Biology Lab Instructor. Dr. Doug Hunter is currently Professor Emeritus in the StFX Physics Department. And the late Dr. David Bunbury from the Chemistry Department. Those three people opened up my eyes to the differences that we all have, and also that we all love to share and to teach.

I have a philosophy that everyone is an iceberg: you get to see 1/9 of us and there’s 8/9 underneath. Honestly, I think that philosophy came from them. They showed me that there was so much more to people, and it helped me to become a better doctor.

The Beacon: What, in particular, have you taken from those experiences and been able to apply to your professional career?

Lisa Gillis: The whole Whatsoever Things Are True — our motto. I was actually thinking of that this morning. I have never been one to nuance a situation such that people don’t know what I’m talking about. You want to know what’s wrong with you. You want to know the reason for your illness. My patients have constantly said that they appreciate my honesty and my truthfulness and it comes from Whatsoever Things Are True. There’s no point otherwise. You can walk around and you can put a different face on things, but unfortunately people still need to deal with the truth and I think that’s really helped me, helped my patient population.

It’s funny. I think one of the things I’ve noticed most by living all over Canada, and, again, it’s the corniness, is how much of a family StFX really is.

You see the X-ring and it’s an automatic conversation. A closeness pops up all of a sudden. It’s really neat.

I was getting breakfast at a coffee shop in Toronto, there were some homeless people standing outside, and one took it upon himself to be the door opener. He was ignored by everyone until a person in a StFX ring came by. He sat and talked to him. And I was, like, you know what? That’s awesome.