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Outside the Lab Profession

Journeys in Pathology: A Five-Year Train Adventure

Commute /kəˈmyo͞ot/ verb

Official definition: Regular travel of an individual between the place of residence and the place of work or study that can occur on a daily or near-daily basis with various modality of transportation. 

Romantic interpretation: Daily pilgrimage of the heart and spirit, bridging the distance between home and the quest for fulfillment and purpose. A time-bound voyage that weaves through the tapestry of bustling streets, quiet countryside, and the silent digital pathways of the world wide web, carrying with it the hopes and aspirations of those who tread its path.

In the heart of Northern Italy, I embarked on a journey like no other. It was in Verona – fresh from the halls of a challenging but rewarding resident school – that my boundless passion for pathology ignited. As a young practicing pathologist, my dedication to the field was matched only by my deep commitment to my wife – a dedication that would chart the course of my professional life in ways I never anticipated.

Luca Cima at his workstation in Santa Chiara Hospital. Credit: Luca Cima

I had long harbored the aspiration to leave a profound mark on the university hospital that nurtured me, shaping my path from a medical student to a fully fledged pathologist; however, though Verona had blessed me with the love of my life, job opportunities as a practicing pathologist were regrettably absent following my residency. I faced a pivotal decision. An opportunity arose in the city of Trento – a chance to work in a high workload pathology unit that was known to be forward looking in terms of implementation of digital laboratory workflow and diagnostics. But the position came with a steep cost: it required a daily commute of 180 kilometers – or 3.5–4 hours of train travel each day.

For many, the prospect of such a commute would be daunting – a herculean task that outweighs the benefits. But for me, the decision was clear. Moving was not an option. Family reasons and love that I could not forsake anchored me to my hometown. Accepting this position, I embarked on a dual journey: the first towards professional growth, the second a daily trek that tested the limits of endurance and sacrifice.

My two mentors in this work and life experience, Mattia Barbareschi, the current head of the Pathology Unit at the Santa Chiara Hospital and Gordan Dvornik, who passed away in 2021, may his soul rest in peace. Credit: Luca Cima

The early days were a trial by fire. Mornings began before dawn, with the world still shrouded in sleep’s embrace. The quiet hum of the train became the backdrop to my mornings and evenings, a constant companion on my journey. Initially, the commute felt like a relentless drain on time and energy that could have been devoted to study, rest, or personal pursuits. Ever the optimist, I viewed this obstacle as a challenge to overcome rather than a deterrent.

It was within the confines of the train’s carriages that I discovered the extraordinary potential of social media as a professional tool. I began to connect with other pathologists and medical professionals worldwide, engaging in discussions, sharing interesting cases, and staying abreast of the latest research and developments in pathology. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook became my laboratory outside the lab, spaces where I could learn, contribute, and grow even while in transit.

Moreover, the support and camaraderie of my colleagues at the Pathology Unit of the Santa Chiara Hospital played a pivotal role in making my journey a success. They recognized the unique challenges I faced and went out of their way to accommodate and assist, ensuring I remained an integral part of the team despite the physical distance.

Staff at the Pathology Unit at Santa Chiara University Hospital, Trento, Italy – “A happy and collaborative bunch,” says Luca Cima. Credit: Luca Cima

As the years passed, my commute became a productive sanctuary also from a scientific point of view. I authored and co-authored a number of research papers. I became actively involved in the communication committee of the European Society of Digital and Integrative Pathology (ESDIP), advertising their events and promoting the dissemination of digital pathology and artificial intelligence applied to pathology. In 2022, I was selected for the Digital Communication Fellowship in Pathology organized by “The Pathologist” and the Loyola University of Chicago. I did all this from my seat on the train. My journey became a testament to the power of determination, adaptability, and the profound impact of a supportive professional community.

Yet, it was not just the professional achievements that marked my journey. The hours spent commuting also afforded me a rare luxury in the fast-paced world of medicine – time to reflect, plan, and dream. The changing landscapes outside my window mirrored the growth and shifts in my personal life, a daily reminder of the passage of time and the progress of my journey.

Now, after five and a half years of this unique lifestyle, the time has come to return to Verona, to embrace a new chapter that does not require an arduous commute. The decision is bittersweet. The prospect of reclaiming hours lost to travel and the opportunity to integrate more fully into my family is a necessity I cannot close my eyes to, but there is a sense of melancholy in leaving behind a routine that, against all odds, became a cherished part of my life.

Sebastian, Luca Cima’s scooter – a faithful travel companion for the last three years; 4100 kilometers done together. Credit: Luca Cima

My commute was more than just a physical journey; it was a pilgrimage of personal and professional growth. It taught me the value of time, the importance of a supportive community, and the boundless possibilities that lie within the challenges we face. As I reflect on this chapter of my life, there is a profound sense of gratitude for the extraordinary group of colleagues who became friends, mentors, and collaborators. The train rides are now fond memories of the time I forged my path in the world of pathology.

As I look into the future, the lessons learned and the friendships formed during my commuting years remain indelible parts of my journey. The young pathologist who once boarded a train with a sense of determination and a hint of trepidation now walks into his city’s medical community with confidence, enriched by the experiences that have shaped him. My story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of community, and the remarkable ways in which our greatest challenges can lead to our most triumphant achievements.

In a world that often rushes past in a blur, my journey reminds us to embrace the journey itself, to find value in the challenges we face, and to remember that, sometimes, the longest commutes lead to the most rewarding destinations.

The Santa Chiara Hospital under heavy snow; some days, Luca Cima’s commute was particularly tough. Credit: Luca Cima

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About the Author
Luca Cima

Surgical pathologist and cytopathologist in the Pathology Unit at Santa Chiara University Hospital, Trento, Italy

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