From Papineau to Pathology
I come from a rural farm town in Illinois which once had a sign declaring “Population 180” as you drove into the town flanked by corn and bean fields. Passing through one four-way stop, you were on your way out of the town unless you slowed down to admire the cows or corn silos. Growing up in such an isolated place, paired with difficult financial hardships certainly had its difficulties. How could anyone from this town outnumbered by cows and pigs grow up to be anything but a farmer or blue-collared worker? While these jobs were, and are, crucial and not in any way to be looked down upon, they were never paths I desired to pursue, but they were the only paths I thought someone like me could take.
My time in high school and college was wrought with apathy for academics, from begging my parents to let me drop out of high school (“I need to be a garage rock musician”) to being placed on academic probation at one point in college (“These classes are irrelevant to my career in music and art”). In my junior year of college, I randomly decided to take a course in koine (“common”) Greek language, and that’s when my love for academia came roaring to life. I finally ended up finishing college with a degree in art and digital media and a minor in psychology.
I then began working at a small city library in Illinois for the adult and community services department, assisting patrons, working community events, doing graphic design work, and running the library’s social media accounts. This was the first job I had where I loved going into work – my co-workers were amazing. Working with the adult services department included a lot of patron interaction and the spirit of this community was rejuvenating. Simultaneously, I became a founding member of a non-profit art center. I loved my job and the volunteer art center work I was doing for the community. However, I found that I was lacking an ability to help so many of those who had physical illnesses and/or disabilities. I was also missing the intellectual stimulation I had surprisingly come to love in college. I was helping my community both at work and at the art center and loving every minute of it, but I was not finding intellectual fulfillment. I realized I could do the most in the context of medicine and I decided to take a leap of uncertainty and apply to post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs.
I was accepted and completed my post-baccalaureate studies at Loyola University Chicago. While volunteering in a Chicago hospital, I was allowed to help in the pathology lab. The pathologists were incredibly kind and showed me what they did on a day-to-day basis. I found that their job provided diagnoses for patients so they could receive accurate care. It was challenging intellectually to think through the diagnoses, and it simultaneously provided a vibrant aesthetic beauty with each slide. I was hooked. Looking back, while my interests appeared all over the place in undergrad, my love for science and art was coming from the same place of finding answers to why things are the way they are. Throughout medical school, I kept my mind open to other specialties, but none of them fulfilled all that I was looking for like pathology does. In pathology, I will be able to give patients the diagnoses they need to receive the best care possible, all while embracing my early roots of love for biology and art.
First-Generation Med Student
The application process to medical school as a first-generation applicant was not easy. That is not to say it is easy for anyone, but I did not come from a wealthy family and the cost of the MCAT, applications, then secondary applications were something I could not afford, even while working a full-time job with benefits. I had to open a new credit card and put all the expenses on there. They are still there, accruing interest to this day. I applied for financial assistance but was denied because, although an independent applicant not receiving parental financial help, my parents did not make a certain percentage below the poverty line. Therefore, I was denied. In the end to save money, I applied to less than ten medical schools.
Besides the financial difficulties, I had little help with the application process. I had a mentor for my personal statement through Loyola which was immensely helpful, but all other aspects of the application became Google searches which usually ended up on the notoriously discouraging Student Doctor Network website. I had no parents or family to help from their experience in medicine. I had no connections to anyone in medical school programs. It was me, my application, and my debt. While it was razor thin where I applied, I was accepted to Midwestern University – CCOM (Chicago, IL).
Advocacy Outside of Pathology
Outside of pathology and medicine, I have a great passion for the intellectually disabled population. I grew up with an uncle who had an intellectual disability, and he was, and is, a very dearly beloved member of our family. At a young age we would watch him participate in basketball games and in Special Olympics tournaments. My summer jobs in high school were at a local training center, a non-profit center that provides jobs to adult men and women with intellectual disabilities. These beautiful individuals have always been very integral to our family and to how I view the world.
My pathway to getting more involved with direct advocacy with intellectually disabled individuals with/without mental illness really started while waiting to apply for medical school. I had taken a job in an adult psychiatric care unit. I quickly realized the patients I loved working with the most had an intellectual disability and mental illness. I found I could connect quickly with them, and I was happiest during the days I could work with them. I left work those days feeling the happiest, knowing I had done all I could to provide both a therapeutic environment and tools for them to help with their target behaviors.
I saw a job opening and was able to apply for and accept a job to work as a Qualified Intellectual Disabilities Professional (QIDP), a case management position for men and women with intellectual disabilities who live in Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) homes. The job was at the same training center I had worked at in high school. Some of my clients were those I had known since I was 16 years old. As a case manager, I was able to advocate for my clients’ choices, assist them in meeting personal and behavioral goals, and show them that they all should be treated with respect and dignity with no exceptions.
The friendships I have with my past clients are meaningful beyond words. They truly bring indescribable beauty to this world. I am currently working on getting more involved in political advocacy for this population, as there are still shocking inequalities they face. I am also in the process of becoming a legal guardian for two past clients. They need and deserve someone to stand alongside them and be there to best reflect their choices. I want all those who come to know me to see that they too can have their lives enriched by getting involved with advocacy work for these brilliant and beautiful individuals.
As PathMatch season continues moving forward, I am excited to see where my next path to pathology will take me.
Our sincerest thanks to Jacob for sharing his inspirational story through the blog. If you are also interested in contributing to our blog, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Luci, visit our Products page or email email@example.com. 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.