Lillian Hathaway, a physician assistant (PA) in Los Angeles, has established herself in the competitive field of medicine while still staying true to her artistic roots.
She describes her journey to becoming a PA as a “nontraditional pathway to medicine” because she focused largely on the arts growing up. However, she felt drawn to the medical field in her teenage years and went on to attend college in Washington, D.C., receive a full ride to PA school and graduate as valedictorian.
However, Lillian pursued other ventures over the years, as well, including photography, plus-size modeling and writing.
“I just refuse to give up that artistic part of myself and that is very strong to this day, so I do a lot outside medicine,” Lillian says.
Originally starting with small photoshoots in graduate school, Lillian has now established herself as a wedding, engagement and fashion photographer. In fact, Lillian’s artistic pursuits as a photographer have led her to photograph weddings and engagements all over the world and country, from Italy to Miami.
“They’re the really artistic sides of me that I take very seriously and have expectations for myself of delivery in,” Lillian says. “They’re not just side parts or hobbies. They’re parts of who I am, and they are just as important as wearing a white coat or knowing how to use a stethoscope.”
Lillian faced major hurdles on her path to becoming the multifaceted woman she is now. While she was in PA school, she suffered from bullying as well as mental health struggles ranging from imposter syndrome to feelings of worthlessness and fear. Many people thought she “didn’t have what it took” to make it. These difficulties culminated in a suicide attempt. Now, she is a passionate mental health advocate, working toward maintaining her own mental health and encouraging others to do the same.
“Thankfully, I survived,” Lillian says. “I consider myself very lucky to be alive, and having a priority of my mental health has become a non-negotiable for me. A lot of people to this day see it as something you do when you are sick, and I don’t see mental health care that way. I don’t see brushing your teeth as just for when you eat chocolate. Brushing your teeth is all the time no matter what because we need to brush our teeth. In that same sense, taking care of our mental health, going to therapy, considering support groups or medication as needed, doing whatever we need to have good mental health is a necessity, not an add-on.”
About five years ago, Lillian started My Project Stigma, an advocacy program with the aim of destigmatizing going to therapy. Each week, Lillian posts an Instagram story or reel after going to therapy to show others that she values her mental health and goes to therapy. She hopes these posts inspire others to take their mental health seriously.
“I think it’s really powerful to be a healthcare provider — the person who oftentimes is able to help people in their darkest moments — also be able to admit, ‘Hey, I’m also a patient,’” Lillian says. “I think there can be a lot of stigma about that.”
In addition to her advocacy, Lillian is proud of her other accomplishments. She emphasizes “the small things” as the moments that stand out most, such as being able to come alongside patients who are struggling. Lillian was also featured recently by FIGS Scrubs as an LGBTQ+ healthcare worker.
As she looks toward the future, Lillian would like to continue to expand My Project Stigma and work on a series of essays and photo projects, but, ultimately, she does not know precisely what her future plans will look like, though she would like it to focus around the themes of “radical acceptance and reframing what success looks like.”
“I don’t really know what’s next,” Lillian says. “I feel being a woman, we are born to create and whatever we are given, we make more of it. I feel like this world is really new and there are a lot of changes in the way we see the world recently.
“I just know it’s going to be something authentic and true and mine, and I want to bring a lot of women with me.”
Throughout her own journey, Lillian herself has realized her own resiliency, which she describes as “a really powerful gift.” Lillian is inspired by actress and writer Mindy Kaling, who poses the question “Why not me?” in her 2015 book title. Lillian encourages other women to ask themselves this “life-changing question” when encountering obstacles to help them overcome and realize that they can achieve and have what they want.
“For women, we have so much capacity to be many things — to be mothers and lovers and fighters and healers,” Lillian says. “‘She can be both’ represents that it doesn’t have to look like everything else to be incredibly powerful and worthy.”