Genetics, GI Pathology, and Golden Retrievers
Sitting Down With… Wendy L. Frankel, Kurtz Chair and Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Chair of the Department of Pathology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, USA
You come from a medical family…
My father was a prominent surgeon in our community and patients recognized him whenever we went out as a family. I was so impressed by their admiration, his passion for surgery, and his dedication to his patients that I wanted to be just like him. I used to go on patient rounds with my father on weekends when I was in high school and did a summer internship in surgery while in college. I never even considered entering a field of medicine other than general surgery. I planned to specialize in gastrointestinal (GI) surgery.
So where did you get your passion for pathology?
In accordance with my career plan, I spent five years in a general surgery residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. In my program, most residents completed three clinical years, took two years for research, and then returned for two more clinical years. My research was in a surgical nutrition and GI surgical laboratory with John Rombeau, and it was that experience that inspired me to continue studying GI disease – but as a pathologist, rather than a surgeon. I found I was much more interested in studying disease pathogenesis, teaching, and research than in the technical aspects of operating.
I became interested in liver pathology while working with Linda Ferrell during my surgical pathology fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. After that, I was fortunate enough to join The Ohio State University at a very exciting time: the start of our Columbus-area study on hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (now known as Lynch syndrome). It’s a surprisingly common condition; more than one in every 35 patients with colon cancer has Lynch syndrome. Our work, together with that of other centers, has demonstrated that all colorectal and endometrial cancer patients should be screened for Lynch syndrome, and that such screening is both feasible and essential. In the future, screening may be done using next generation sequencing, and I anticipate that other tumors will also be screened for microsatellite instability (MSI) given the new immunotherapeutic agents available to treat MSI cancers.
The start of my career at OSU was an amazing time of discovery in genetics and Lynch syndrome – and ever since, I have been fascinated by cancer genetics.
Why did you focus on becoming an active leader?
I was motivated to become a leader by the opportunity to change things, rather than just talk about problems. I was inspired by previous United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology leaders. I knew that I wanted to be involved at national and international levels, not just the local level, so I sought opportunities to get involved and have an impact on the future of our field. I’ve also considered getting more involved in leadership at OSU, or within the College of Medicine. However, I really enjoy working with residents and clinical colleagues at the moment. I don’t think I’m quite ready to give that up in favor of taking on more leadership responsibilities yet.
How can others follow in your footsteps?
My advice to others with leadership goals? First and foremost: get involved. Consider formal leadership training opportunities. Get a mentor – and then, when you feel ready, become a mentor yourself. Be open to new opportunities and to modifying your plans.
Mentorship is key for pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals at every level, and I encourage all of my colleagues to be bold in going out and getting mentors even if none appear interested or available at their institutions. Teamwork, too, is very important. The work you do with others may be as important as what you accomplish on your own. Some of my highest-impact research has been as a member of a multidisciplinary team
What’s your view on social media’s role in pathology?
Well, I have a presence on Twitter (@WendyFrankelMD), which helps me to stay in touch with other laboratory professionals at all ages and stages. Avid Twitter users such as Jerad Gardner and Christina and Michael Arnold have done their best to teach me the advantages of the platform! I have found that social media is a good way to keep up on literature while I am out and about. I have also recently been involved in Facebook live events and Twitter journal clubs and have been impressed by the wide impact and interest.
What advice do you have for your colleagues?
Our goals and interests change throughout our careers. I encourage others to consider new and exciting roles and not feel limited by preconceived notions or other people’s opinions of what you should be.
Work/life integration is also important. Outside the laboratory, I have a wonderful husband, Brian Rubin (not the pathologist!), who puts up with my crazy schedule. I love golden retrievers; my first one was named Bili Rubin! My current dog, Cody, often appears in my talks as a very popular divider slide. I am an avid sports and outdoor enthusiast, so I try to get out of my office as much as possible. With a high-responsibility, high-stress job like ours, it’s vital to have a personal life!
While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.