Discover your passion for pathology

I had the great experience attending The University of Queensland (UQ) to study a semester of marine biology and terrestrial ecology during my undergraduate degree, so it made sense for me to return for medical school.

I decided to choose pathology as my specialty because I found the diagnostic aspect of clinical care the most exciting and rewarding throughout my clinical rotations. I really enjoyed coming up with differential diagnoses and seeing long awaited diagnostic reports to confirm or question our suspicions. It made sense to pursue a career that spends most of the day seeing and diagnosing as many diseases as possible.

I am currently the president of the UQ-Ochsner Pathology Interest Group, and I was also the treasurer last year. Some of the events I've helped coordinate include a COVID-19 autopsy journal club, a webinar about using Twitter as a networking tool among medical students, and an introduction to pathology as a career for third year students. I've enjoyed being in the pathology interest group as it has helped me think critically about how to increase pathology exposure to the general student population.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about pathology, such as the idea that pathologists aren't good with people or that all they do is look at slides all day. This is untrue, as pathologists work closely with their peers to consult on difficult cases and additionally must communicate their findings to clinicians who then translate those results for their patients.

Instead of communicating with patients every day, pathologists communicate with other doctors, which places the pathologist in a unique position to advise clinicians on diagnoses and which tests to order. Much of a pathologist's day includes these conversations, trouble-shooting issues in the laboratory, and examining patient charts, in addition to looking at slides. In fact, some pathologists rarely look at slides anymore!

Through my involvement with the pathology interest group over the past two years, I have also had the opportunity to work with our faculty advisor, Dr Courtney Jackson. She has been a great mentor to me and I have been able to connect her with other students who are interested in pathology. Dr. Jackson has been there every step of the way to provide advice, review my residency applications, and answer any questions I had.

My goal for our interest group is very clear. It is not to convince people to switch specialties to pathology, but instead give students more exposure to the role of pathologists and allow them to make a fully informed decision about their specialty options. In a strange way, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a recent spotlight on pathologists as physicians navigate new diagnostic tests, antibody titers, and their associated sensitivities, specificities, and turnaround times.

I encourage students to join the group to gain exposure to one of the best kept secrets of medicine; a career in pathology. Pathology is a diverse field, encompassing of specialties within every organ system and even broad categories. Some pathologists (such as those in transfusion medicine) still manage patients, and other pathologists (such as molecular pathologists) manage laboratories and teams of medical technicians. If students are unsure of which field to pursue, perhaps there is a passion for pathology that is just waiting to be discovered.

Successful alumni of the pathology interest group include last year's executive board: Roya Zarpak and Jenny Zhang. Roya is currently in her first year of residency in pathology at Georgetown University, and Jenny is also in her first year of residency at University of Arizona. These placements were both among their top choices during their Match season.

To find out more, email monicahml92@gmail.com or join the UQ-Ochsner Pathology Interest Facebook Group.

Last updated:
13 October 2020