This is not a romantic story about how I discovered my love for pathology after gazing through a microscope at a liver biopsy as a 10-year-old. There are plenty of pathologists out there with that story, but there are also a lot of us out there with other stories to tell. This is my story, and I hope portions of if resonate with you. If you’re feeling lost, if your path has taken a turn in the opposite direction of your plans, if you’re at a point where you need to make tough decisions about future directions—you're going to be okay. The universe has a way of working everything out if you trust the process and trust in yourself.
Unsure after undergrad
I graduated from University of Oklahoma in 2008. With a B.S. in microbiology and minors in chemistry and botany, I was unsure about which path to take for graduate studies. I had over 3 years of translational microbiology research experience from undergrad and knew research would be a part of my immediate future, but I was unsure about pursing PhD versus an extended MD/PhD training program. I had friends and mentors pushing me in both directions. To give myself time and to take the MCAT should I decide to apply to medical school, I took a gap year and worked as a laboratory technician at Baylor College of Medicine.
Pursuit of the plunge
Taking advantage of being in the largest medical center in the world and shadowing physicians while continuing to do research and studying the human microbiome solidified my decision to pursue the dual degree tract. I decided to take the plunge and pursue the combined MD/PhD degree and ended up at UT Houston in 2009. I took a winding road through this program, spending three years in medical school and then matriculating into the PhD portion of training at MD Anderson Cancer Center in the field of cancer immunology and immunotherapy. My thesis work took 5 years, longer than average for my program; however, I took a combined 6 months of maternity leave for the birth of two children, and I had a tough project. I developed a novel cancer immunotherapy that targeted a specific leukemia associated antigen. I took the therapeutic from DNA design to protein production and purification to in vitro studies and finally introductory in vivo studies. I went into the final year of my medical school training still unsure what I wanted to specialize in but thinking dermatology. I liked patients, I liked histology, I liked procedures, and I liked immunology.
I applied to dermatology and didn't match...that's right, I didn't match.
At the time I thought my world was ending. What am I going to do now? How could this have happened? It was a frustrating time for me, and the primary factor that kept me moving forward was my husband and family. They knew I had worked too hard to give up and that I needed to keep pursuing my dream, but maybe this time I should build in a safety net. I took the year to re-apply, continued research and applied again to dermatology, this time with a pathology application mixed in. I was confident (at the time) that dermatology was where I wanted to be but also knew that I wouldn't be miserable in pathology based on previous rotations in medical school. I had used my elective rotation third year of medical school to rotate through pathology based on advice from mentors and seeing that there were lots of MD/PhD pathologists. It was a comfortable back-up for me in case dermatology didn't work out again. I ended up matching into pathology at my home program. I was happy to have a job and that my family didn't have to relocate, but I was still disappointed that I wasn't going to be a dermatologist. But there was always dermpath...
Rockin’ through residency
I started pathology residency excited to make the most of it, get to dermpath or possibly hematopathology (seeing as how my PhD thesis was based in leukemia) as fast as possible, and move on from my “failures.” I was blindsided my sixth month of residency by transfusion medicine. I had finally found what I was meant to do, and it felt SO GOOD. I loved the work, I loved the lab and working with the blood bank technicians, I loved the patient interaction in the apheresis unit, I loved the aspect of the blood donor center and the supply chain issues COVID-19 has caused, and with my background in immunology, I loved serology. Rotating through pathology as a medical student, I had experienced grossing, case sign-out at the microscope and hematopathology, but I had no experience with blood banking. It was a completely different field of pathology with a unique skill set and unique niche in the field. I am so excited to pursue transfusion as a specialty and excited to move forward with this career path.
Embrace the unexpected
My path to pathology wasn't straight and I guess you could say I ended up here by accident. At the time I wasn't happy about it, but looking back on that time, not matching the first time I applied to residency and then matching into pathology was a blessing in disguise. That experience taught me that life doesn't always go according to plan; sometimes the best approach is to bloom where you're planted, make the best of your current situation and appreciate what you have now. I know many in pathology that initially set out on different paths and eventually found their way to the best specialty in medicine. Pathology is unassuming, and if you don't go looking for it, it will pass by in the shadows (despite the best efforts of those of us trying to bring the specialty to light with medical students and trainees). I can’t help but wonder how many future physicians might give pathology a chance given the opportunity to explore all the unique aspects of our specialty. And I also can’t help but wonder if I had the chance to explore the blood bank during my third-year medical school elective if my career would be in a completely different place.
Life is not a race; taking the time to discover what makes you excited to go to work every day is worth it. Career shifts and turns happen and having the courage to move forward is a skill worth fostering. I hope this glimpse into my journey to pathology and our incredibly supportive community will inspire you to take a closer look at our profession. We would welcome you with open arms.
Meet our blogger
Amanda Herrmann, MD, PhD is currently a PGY-4 AP/CP pathology resident at McGovern Medical School in Houston, TX. She plans to pursue transfusion medicine fellowship in 2023 at Houston Methodist Hospital. She is passionate about pathology pipeline and advocacy for pathology in medicine. She is involved in several national pathology organizations, including CAP and APC. She met her lifelong supporter, husband Stephen, in medical school, and they have three children: Henry (7), Patrick (5), and Evelyn (3) that keep them busy outside the hospital. She enjoys in-person pathology conferences (finally!) and traveling with her family.
To learn more about Luci, visit our Products page or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Instapath was founded in 2017 by the same engineers and scientists who developed the original prototypes. Our vision is to enable patients to immediately know their cancer diagnosis instead of waiting days or weeks for the results. Instapath builds microscopy platforms to improve patient care in the form of faster turnaround times and prevention of high risk and costly repeat biopsy procedures. Further, our goal is to provide users with a seamless, modernized digital pathology workflow with tools to complete all pathology evaluations needed to provide the most precise and efficient diagnoses for patients.