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Path At Last! Journey of a First-Generation College Student

A huge part of how I ended up here is because of mentorship, and that is something I want to pay forward.

After learning about Dr. Allison Martin’s 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!) Continuing with the series is Dr. Levi Endelman, PGY1 at University of Wisconsin.

I have had an interest in medicine ever since my senior year of high school. At the time I was interested in the practical application of science and how it could directly be used to help people. I was fortunate that my high school had a health sciences exploration course which was taught by one of our biology teachers. One of the requirements for the course was shadowing numerous health professionals over the course of the semester. I remember shadowing an emergency medicine physician, a general surgeon, and a pathologist. With the pathologist, I was able to observe a hospital autopsy at the regional medical center near my town.

What struck me the most about this experience, aside from the autopsy itself, was the pathologist’s willingness and enthusiasm to teach, even though I was just a high school student. I expected to be like a “fly on the wall” and to observe from afar, but the pathologist beckoned me in and started pointing out gross findings to me and taking the time to explain what they meant in terms that I could understand at the time. He also allowed me to hold, weigh, and examine the organs for myself, which was an amazing experience given that I identify as a kinesthetic learner.

Going on to college as a first-generation student, my parents encouraged me to study whatever I thought I would be interested in learning. I selected biochemistry as a major since my goal was to pursue a career in medicine after undergrad. As time allowed, I shadowed physicians, worked part time as a nursing assistant, and volunteered in the local emergency department helping to turn over rooms. As it was getting closer to medical school application season, I wanted to get some more hands-on experience. However, many “hands-on” jobs would have required me to take time away from college to get another degree or certificate. I did manage to find an internship position during the summer after my junior year of undergrad working as an autopsy technician intern at the Denver (CO) Office of the Medical Examiner. I also found another internship during this time as a pathology technician intern at the Boulder County Coroner’s Office. Both internships preferred a science background but didn’t require any additional formal training so I was able to participate without taking any additional time away from the undergrad program. I remembered how much I enjoyed the autopsy shadowing experience gained in high school and thought that interest deserved further exploration.

At both internships I was responsible for hands-on helping with the autopsy process. I started out mostly assisting with documentation, photography, and maintenance of the morgue and by the end of the internships progressed to assisting with all parts of the evisceration. I enjoyed these internships so much that the following summer, before I matriculated to the University of Iowa for medical school, I went back and worked at both internship positions again.

During medical school, I found that I enjoyed most subjects and most rotations. However, I realized that we never had a required pathology rotation and I wanted to do more than just a 2 or 4 week elective rotation to see what the breadth of pathology was like in the clinical setting after all my previous experiences. Luckily, at the University of Iowa, there was something called a “pathology externship” (colloquially known most places as a post-sophomore fellowship). This was a program that students could participate in after their second or third year of medical school where they would step away from the medical school curriculum for a year and do a year’s worth of pathology rotations before continuing with the rest of medical school. I participated in this program after my third year. We were paid a stipend and were essentially treated like first-year residents without call responsibilities on almost every service rotation. I ended up doing multiple rotations through surgical pathology and autopsy and did month long rotations through cytopathology, hematopathology, neuropathology, transfusion medicine, and digital pathology. These experiences solidified that I wanted to pursue residency in pathology and, during interview season, provide pathology-specific experiences to talk about, and allowed the thinking to begin about what areas of pathology I might be interested in long term. Through it all, just like my first experience in pathology, everyone was excited to teach and to share their knowledge which made pathology feel more and more like a welcoming home.

I am currently two months into AP/CP residency at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I have completed a rotation through cytopathology and am currently on a three month stretch of autopsy rotations. At the current moment, I see myself as being interested in forensic pathology, neuropathology, and possibly pediatric pathology. I love my program and all of the people in it. The quality of the education has been top notch and I am very fortunate to be completing my pathology residency here.

If anyone reading this has any questions, please do not be afraid to reach out and message me on Twitter (@Levi_Endelman). A huge part of how I ended up here is because of mentorship, and that is something I want to pay forward. And to everyone applying to the pathology match this year, best of luck to all of you and I hope that some of you will look at the pathology residency program at UW Madison!

We’d like to extend our sincerest gratitude to Dr. Endelman for his time in sharing his journey to pathology as a first-generation college student. Want to be a part of the Path At Last! series? Just email Kristin at 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!

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