We first met Dr. Allison Martin (@AllisonHHMartin) during Match Week 2021. She was counting down the hours until she found out where she matched for pathology residency. After learning about her path to pathology, we were inspired to begin a new blog series which we have dubbed Path At Last! Pathologists from around the globe (yes, we’re going international!) and at all stages of their careers will be sharing their stories in their own words about how they found pathology, or in many cases, how pathology found them. (Keep an eye on your Twitter DMs -- we might just be searching for you!) There’s really no better way to introduce you to Dr. Martin and her story than by diving right in. So, pack your bags and heat up the time machine. This journey begins in Prague.
Fifteen years ago, I was fresh out of a philosophy degree, living in Prague and teaching English. While I grew up in the medical field with multiple doctors in my family, I had pretty well convinced myself that I would never go into medicine; so, I had very deliberately done a lot of things in (what I thought was) the opposite direction. There I was, on another continent pursuing very non-medical goals, when two things happened: I took on a pathologist and pathologist’s assistant as students, and the “Bodies” exhibit came to town.
Dr. Allison Martin, Prague circa 2008
I vaguely knew of pathology before this. It was like a black box to me, where biopsies or samples were sent and reports were returned. I had never considered the people behind the scenes. But here were two of them, expecting me to help them perfect their English so they could go present at international conferences and write papers. As I worked with them on the best way to articulate, they were also teaching me about the language of pathology. Immunohistochemistry and tissue typing were new concepts to me, the details of histology and all the various stains were little pieces of art that conveyed a message I hadn’t heard before - logic puzzles painted in pretty colors. I was fascinated.
Immunohistochemistry and tissue typing were new concepts to me, the details of histology and all the various stains were little pieces of art that conveyed a message I hadn’t heard before - logic puzzles painted in pretty colors. I was fascinated.
Around the same time, the “Bodies” exhibit was opening in Prague. I tried to get friends to go with me, but everyone I knew was too grossed out by the idea to even consider it. So one afternoon I found myself wandering through the exhibit alone, rapt and amazed with each new piece of meticulous dissection. As I moved through the gallery, I started remembering how much I loved anatomy, and realized that I missed it, missed the science and the world of medicine more than I had let myself know. Standing in front of one body cut like CT slices, the wheels in my head turning, everything clicked into place all at once. I knew with complete certainty at that moment that I wanted to be a pathologist, and specifically that I wanted to be a forensic pathologist.
Over the next few months, I talked to the doctors in my family to begin to map the road I would need to take to get into medical school. I also talked to their colleagues in pathology to learn more about the field and how to get there. I knew with absolute clarity that once I set myself on that path towards medicine, there would never be another time in my life when I could do that again. I decided to stay where I was until I felt that the time was right to move on, and I do not regret that decision at all. The next year I met my now husband (we’ve been married 11 years now) as well as many wonderful friends and had a wealth of experiences that I would not trade for anything.
I knew with absolute clarity that once I set myself on that path towards medicine, there would never be another time in my life when I could do that again.
About two years after my pathology epiphany, both my mother and my soon to be mother-in-law had recurrences of cancer at the same time, so we came back to the US to support them. My husband and I spent nearly a year bouncing between our two homes before our mothers were both stable health-wise. Once things were looking better for them, we had to decide on what was next for us. I knew that we would need significant funds for me to go back to school and we had both always wanted to go to Asia. So, we accepted English teaching jobs in Korea where we could save money and fulfill another dream, before I launched into the medical path. We spent two years in Korea teaching, travelling and saving money before finally coming back to the US – it was time for me to go back to school.
Dr. Allison Martin, Korea circa 2010
Stay tuned for part two of From Prague to Pathology as we continue to journey along with Dr. Martin as she follows her dream of becoming a forensic pathologist. Want to be a part of the Path At Last! series? Just email Kristin at email@example.com to share your path to pathology. Stories from medical students, pathologists’ assistants, pathology residents and fellows, pathologists at all career levels and retired pathologists are all welcome!
Built on the vision of better patient outcomes, Instapath was founded in 2017 by engineers and scientists to enable patients to immediately know their cancer diagnosis. Our team made it our mission to develop fast and easy digital pathology technology so diagnosis can be made in minutes instead of days. To learn more about Instapath and our technology, visit https://instapathbio.com/or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.