How I Chose the Profession of Pathology

Published by Roseann I. Wu, MD, MPH, on July 13, 2016

I’m truly honored to have been selected as a member of this year’s American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) 40 Under Forty. We’re diverse in every way but united in our dedication to the profession of pathology and laboratory medicine, all in the pursuit of quality patient care.
I don’t think many, if any, of us dream about becoming a pathologist or laboratory professional from the start. I did want to be a doctor and a teacher, probably due to readily available role models and my parents’ deeply held belief that physicians were the epitome of skilled, respected citizens (with impenetrable job security!).

My father was struck with polio as a youth and while his disability didn’t stop him from emigrating across the world, obtaining three masters’ degrees, securing a steady job, and raising a family, it did influence my worldview. I learned that long-term persistence and effort paid greater dividends than short-term gratification. Balanced with my father’s stubborn but charismatic personality was my mother’s nurturing and temperate nature. Both worked hard to raise my brother and me, to set us on an upward trajectory.

Do you find both images equally compelling? Maybe pathology is right for you.

I was fascinated by biology in high school and went on to major in anthropology at Northwestern University, with a human biology concentration. Wanting to explore this interest in nature versus nurture further, I then enrolled in a joint MD-MPH program at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Medical school could be described as trying to fill a thimble with a fire hose—the amount of information is overwhelming.

I cycled through the clinical rotations in a daze, hoping that some kind of enlightenment would tell me what to do with the rest of my life. It was near the end of our 3rd year in my surgery rotation—during which I once fell asleep holding a retractor for an appendectomy—when I decided to take a pathology elective.

Maybe it was my appreciation for the visual arts or that the pathologists were some of my most passionate teachers, or that I wanted to be the one to render the tissue diagnosis, but I chose pathology. I later learned that I did miss direct patient contact a little and wanted to be on the front lines of screening and diagnosis, so cytopathology was a natural fit. My pathology training at Massachusetts General Hospital was educationally enriching both personally and professionally, and I found an ideal fit for my skills and interests at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Here I have the pleasure of teaching medical students, residents, and fellows, all while providing diagnostic consultations and patient care at a world-class medical institution. My colleagues and coworkers are incredibly accomplished and yet approachable and collaborative. I’m grateful that I’m exactly where I am, doing exactly what I’m doing.

My advice to young pathologists and laboratory professionals is to keep an open mind and an open door. This applies both to opportunities that come your way as well as to the people who cross your path. Find a passion or two that motivate and inspire you, and these will help you shine in the best way possible.

Roseann Wu, MD, MPH, FCAP, is Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a recipient of the ASCP 2016 “40 Under 40” award.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog column are those of the authors or other attributed individuals and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Department, Penn Medicine, or the University of Pennsylvania. Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of medical advice or diagnosis.

Image credits: Gout Crystals Polarized (collection Roseann Wu); Irises (Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.)