My Path to Path
The value of the pathology post-sophomore fellowship
When I started medical school three years ago, most of my understanding of a pathologist’s (any pathologist’s) job stemmed from watching CSI: Miami. In other words, I had no idea what a pathologist really was. Yet as I continued my medical journey, I became increasingly attracted to the specialty. I am not sure if it was the vibrantly colored histology, the complex pathology, or the humorous references to food when describing gross pathologic specimens – but, whatever the cause, I became so curious about the field that I decided to apply for the Pathology Post-Sophomore Fellowship (PSF) position at The University of Arizona. During this fellowship, I spent a whole year in the role of a pathology resident. I previewed my own cases, dictated final diagnoses, participated in frozen sections, presented at tumor boards, and even lived out the CSI fantasy by completing autopsy cases. What did I learn from the fellowship? That pathologists are paramount to excellent patient care. Through pinpoint diagnoses and efficient laboratory and molecular testing, I witnessed firsthand how pathologists influence treatment plans and how vital pathology is to optimizing patient outcomes.
My experiences during the post-sophomore fellowship remind me of a trip I took to Spain. Before I began medical school, I visited the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Unfortunately, due to the untimely death of its architect, Antoni Gaudi, this great construction remains unfinished. As I scanned the building, I stood speechless and in awe.
The combination of stone, granite, wood, and concrete working in symphony with one another was strikingly beautiful. I continued to scan and noticed an area that was not finished. Simple steel beams stood firm in a scaffolding pattern. No gorgeous granite, no shiny stained glass, and no complex architecture to marvel at – just simple steel beams. However, what I failed to realize at that time (but genuinely appreciate now) is that those beams are what allow all the different materials to come together in perfect harmony. To me, those steel beams in the Sagrada Familia embody the role of pathologists in medicine. I believe that pathologists are the hidden heroes of healthcare. These specialists work relentlessly behind the scenes and get neither the glory of clinicians nor the gratitude of patients – but, without pathologists, treatments would all be a guessing game. Those steel beams are symbolic because pathologists are the foundation that permits the rest of the hospital to synchronize and provide accurate, effective treatment plans.
Thanks to my post-sophomore fellowship, I gathered an amazing amount of information. I learned how to diagnose tubular adenomas, melanomas, and astrocytomas. I learned how to complete autopsies, interpret flow cytometry data, and perform bone marrow biopsies. I even learned how to properly use a microscope! Yet despite all these things that I have learned, the greatest lesson I took from the experience is that empathy and compassion can be found behind a microscope. This is the lesson that has convinced me to choose a career in pathology. Despite too often being far from the limelight, pathologists have a profound understanding of the ways their work directly impacts their patients. They understand the consequences of a diagnosis for their patients and they embrace the intense reality that millimeters make all the difference between treatable and untreatable – life and death. What amazes me the most is that pathologists see their patients through the microscope. Without ever even seeing their patients’ faces, pathologists are still able to work with a patient-centered mindset. This mindset is what drives them to continually hone their craft – and it’s what has inspired me on my path to path.
Albert Sy is third year medical student at The University of Arizona College of Medicine-Tuscon, Arizona, USA.