If there’s one thing Path At Last! has shown us it’s that the path to pathology can be windy and uncertain with disappointments and challenges along the way. But above all, the pathologists we’ve featured in this series have risen above challenges and persevered on their journeys to becoming physicians. Michael Williams MD, MSc (@bluehatcomics85) is one such physician, and the pathologist we are featuring this week. Dr. Williams is a neuropathology fellow at University of Alabama-Birmingham and will be a 2023-2024 forensics fellow at Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We are honored to present to you Dr. Williams’ path to pathology in his own words.
I always wanted to be a doctor since I was young and tried to lay out this structured journey for my education. “Go to college, get into medical school, finish residency and be a doctor,” was the predominant thinking in my community college days. If only there were a method to communicate with my younger self that the journey is not so rigid…
My first major was the standard biology/pre-med track, an arena that most medical school hopefuls enter. So while learning about the Krebs cycle and that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, I was also taking classes in trigonometry and calculus and fell in love with how math equations helped our understanding of the world. I thought, “How can I incorporate math into my college studies?” So, one day I talked to the mathematics department who then walked me to the engineering department and that’s how I ended up getting an associate’s in engineering.
I was initially torn between making a decision that was going against the traditional path to medical school while also following a subject that I found highly gratifying, yet I convinced myself I was still going to be on track to enter medicine. After the associate’s, my transfer to University of Buffalo was in tow with the decision to go into chemical engineering. Fast forward to senior year of college when I finally got to apply to medical school and imagine the shock and disappointment of the rejection letters placed in my campus mailbox. The gamut of emotions that swirled reading the rejection letters ultimately led to me feeling like the structured journey had become undone. I asked myself, “How do I pivot from this? Why after all this time, planning, volunteering and sleepless nights is my ‘timeline’ not coming to fruition?” Feeling defeated, I sought advice from my college counselor who said I should go to graduate school.
Dr. Williams with UAB residency program coordinator and dermpath fellow
I applied to graduate school and finished with a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and a new-found appreciation of basic science research, but I knew I had to reapply to medical school and somehow get back on this “structured journey.” Let’s just say in the span of several years after graduate school, including getting into medical school, doing a preliminary internship in surgery and switching to pathology, I learned that the journey is something that we shouldn’t structure and control but learn from.
Pathology residency has taught me so much of who I am clinically and I’m glad I became board certified in the field. I also found the courage to start a podcast called Diversify In Path | Podcast on Spotify to help engender communication amongst everyone about the topic of diversity in pathology.
Dr. Michael Williams interviews Dr. Nicole Jackson for Diversify In Path
There are no perfect words to give to someone about overcoming challenges since everyone has different battles. I have found the following general tips helpful along my journey:
1. Create boundaries and develop a self-care routine. I am constantly learning this every day but entering medicine is a huge commitment and learning how you can individually create boundaries (time for yourself, time for your family, time for friends and other loved ones) can help create a sense of balance in life.
2. Remember that you are valued! This is especially true for those entering the medical field. I was glad to have a physician-mentor who encouraged me along the way of getting into graduate school and eventually into medical school. The initial rejection letters I received during undergrad felt so isolating but I realize (for me at least) it’s not failure but rather a step towards realizing what you are truly capable of doing. Having that reminder that you are amazing can really make a difference.
3. For BIPOC entering or currently in medical training, remember you are not alone on this journey. The medical institution can be rigid, but you have the spark to do something different and new for your patients and colleagues. You will encourage them to confront biases, take care of patients of different backgrounds and, who knows, maybe you will one day be the CEO of a hospital and continue to create change in the C-suite.
If I can leave you with a pearl of wisdom I gained along my journey, it’s this: life is unscripted and unpredictable, so enjoy the journey. Follow the advice of those you trust but incorporate it into space that you can access for your own benefit.
What challenges did you face on your path to pathology? Be a source of inspiration like Dr. Williams and share your journey with the pathology community. Just contact Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message us on Twitter at @instapathbio for more info.
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 email@example.com.