Imagine a different life. Instead of the beeping of IV pumps and the bustling of the healthcare team, you are instead surrounded by the purr of diagnostic machines, the whirring of refrigerators, and the bright white fluorescent lights of a laboratory. There are no patients here, but there are parts of them. And what makes it even more exciting is that there are things that only you know, things that only you can find out, and knowledge that is only contained within the walls a pathologist calls home.
I know it’s not most people’s first choice, but after my first lecture in pathology, I was enamored. I was intrigued by the life found on a microscopic scale and all the things that the human body could tell us – both while alive and postmortem. It was this wonderful realization and a few other things that I’ll share with you that drew me to this wonderful specialty.
#1 You love the complex, the exciting, the mind-blowing
You think the world we live in is complicated, try the microscopic! One of the things I most enjoyed about pathology while learning about it in school was how everything seemed to just make sense after studying it. We spend so much time learning histories and physical examinations, regurgitating clinical correlations and the pathogenesis of disease, but pathology brings it all together. It is the synthesis of the entirety of disease – from the miniscule to the patient sitting in the clinic. And the craziest part? The beauty of pathology is found in the smallest part of life forces, cells that have the power to turn a normal organ into a roaring cancer monster, or viruses and bacteria that have the power to change the composition of our cells as we know them. What’s more mind-blowing than that?
#2 Amazing work-life balance
Just like everyone else in the world, I think physicians want a work-life balance, too! And from what I know of pathology, it seems that it has that level of flexibility and adaptability as a field that allows it to adjust to your life’s goals! I’ve met various pathologists in my careers – one was a parent who worked part time until their children were in college and transitioned into full-time pathology after their graduation. That’s nearly 30 years in practice as a part-time physician, full-time parent. How cool is that? Another pathologist told me that they preferred teaching to hospital life and after residency, made the smooth transition from full-time clinician and part-time professor to full-time professor and part-time clinician! And with all the subspecialties and niche fields in the world of pathology, you will no doubt find something that fits you perfectly, all while working nine-to-five, no weekends and no holidays, unless of course, there’s a frozen section or transplant that needs your attention!
#3 No patience? No patients!
One of my deterrents to working in a clinical field was fighting against my natural introversion. While most that know me in the real world will say that I’m definitely a “people person,” I have to admit that it’s a practiced skill that I’ve gotten so good at faking, that it seems real! During my rotations in internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and the rest of my experience in the emergency room and the outpatient department, one thing was glaringly obvious – I did not have the patience or the mental stamina to deal with human beings day in and day out. I could not imagine myself going from hospital rounds to a full day of clinics to being called in the middle of the night about critical lab results or cases that were in danger of going south. Because of that, I found that pathology was the perfect fit – a field that allowed me to interact with fellow professionals, but limited my contact with patients. And quite frankly, I think being a name on a report seems so much nicer!
#4 A stepping stone to many other fields, careers, and adventures
Like I was saying before, the field of pathology (like all fields of medicine) is vast! Within a single rotation alone, I learned about molecular pathology, cytology, histopathology, transplant pathology, forensic pathology and criminology, as well as autopsies. I was blown away by how many options I would have post-residency. A quick online search pulls up a myriad of possible adventures in a variety of institutions around the world! Who doesn’t love a career that can grow with them? And I think that as I figure out what I want to do with my life, pathology will open doors for me that I didn’t even know existed – just like peering through a microscope and seeing the unknown become known!
#5 You love learning and are a self-proclaimed nerd
I am a nerd through and through, and when I finally admitted I wanted to go into this field, my fellow classmates laughed and said “Well, that checks out” because if all the medical specialties were given labels akin to the stereotypical high school friend groups, I’d probably be somewhere between the chess team and the cheerleaders. While I have to admit that pathology seems to be more behind-the-scenes, I didn’t go into medicine for the glory – I wanted to become a physician because it meant a lifetime of learning, a lifetime of discovery, and a lifetime of searching for answers to the questions that have plagued medicine for centuries. If that isn’t nerdy, then I don’t know what is. There is a place in the world for all nerds, and while I wish it was at Hogwarts or the Shire, I’ll take a well-lit laboratory!
I don’t know about you but I always found the idea of sitting in a clinic for hours daunting. I remember sitting in the outpatient department as a student rotator one day, waiting for my next patient to come to me for their admission interview and it hit me – if I was going to go into a clinical specialty, much of my life would look like this. I would be behind a desk or in a cubicle, getting histories and performing physical examinations, with my social skills cranked to the maximum level constantly! It’s enough to make even the bravest introverts shudder.
When I considered non-clinical specialties, I realized that the thing I loved most about being a doctor is the mystery – the search for the answer, the idea that there is a way to figure out any problem that comes our way and being elbows-deep in both old and new knowledge, all of which come together to give a patient the answers they deserve.
Come into the lab, the view’s beautiful from here.