We hope you enjoyed part one of Path to Pathology by guest blogger Monica Miyakawa-Liu (@Patho_mon), an MS4 at University of Queensland-Ochsner. Now in part two, we are taking you to Canada to meet another guest blogger and aspiring pathologist Dr. Syeda Qasim (@syeda_qasim). Her journey is interesting as she graduated from King Edward Medical University in Pakistan. She has worked periodically as a Pathologists’ Assistant and a researcher. Currently she is an instructor at Ontario IMG School in Toronto where she loves to engage with medical students and share with them her passion for pathology. She is planning on applying for her pathology residency this year. This is her path to pathology.
“Why pathology?” or otherwise “Why not any other specialty?” These questions have followed me during my years in medical school when I started getting acquainted with pathology. Initially, I felt disturbed by these questions, but with time, I realized that my passion for pathology far exceeded any criticism. I got the courage to answer these questions and prove to others what pathology meant to me and what I aimed to achieve in my career.
My path to pathology has been channeled by my inquisitive personality. For as long as I can remember, whenever I encounter something new, I have asked myself, “Why?” and “How?” These were the questions I asked when, in 2008, my mother was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Although many specialists cared for her, I was struck by how, ultimately, they relied on a pathologist’s diagnosis—from the assessment of her hematological evaluation to her ultimate diagnosis through a transbronchial biopsy—to guide her care. During her hospital stay, in the months before her death, my mother advised me to “Do something that is meaningful and will benefit the people around you.” Pathology does justice to my mother’s words. It was the pathologist that answered my family’s question as to why my mother was coughing and later explained how her disease progressed to respiratory failure. My mother’s loss is one that I will carry as long as I breathe, but with her words in my ears I discovered my calling. By my final year of medical school I knew I wanted to be a pathologist.
Starting work as a Pathologists’ Assistant and Demonstrator in Pakistan after medical school only affirmed my interest for the field. I found joy in teaching pathology to medical students and learned the intricacies of grossing while preparing countless specimens. I enjoyed looking in the microscope discerning benign lesions from malignant ones and correlating clinical findings to microscopic pathology, while appreciating the complicated patterns of soft tissue lesions and the intricate layers of epithelium. To be able to study the marvels of nature at a microscopic level while assisting in patient diagnosis has always appealed to me. Since moving to Canada in 2016, I have done observerships in various specialties. I was always drawn back to pathology since it serves to connect all the specialties and provide answers to the questions they pose. Moreover, working as a part-time mentor to recent medical graduates has enabled me to appreciate how there is so much to pathology and how learning about leiomyomas has a new aspect each time I read and talked to students about it.
During this time, I was also blessed with a little daughter who is now almost 4, and a future pathologist, or so I aspire her to be! I feel my passion for pathology has always been reaffirmed by any personal struggles I may have had during my career. During such periods when I may have felt disconnected to pathology, I have made it a point to be involved in research or scholarly activities. The aspect of continual discovery and the mystery of looking in a microscope to diagnose diseases has never ceased to fascinate me.
Pathology serves to connect all the specialties. As I learned during my mother’s illness, pathologists are the patient’s companion throughout their disease, answering their “why’s” and “how’s” and shepherding patients to the right diagnosis and treatment. A pathologist’s journey is far from simple. From being an underrated specialty, I believe pathology serves one of the most crucial roles in medicine. Navigating and ultimately finding your way to pathology is no doubt difficult in medical school with limited exposure to pathology during the most important years of medical education.
The pathologists’ community has given ample support to students during these uncertain times, be it through virtual rotations and the wonderful initiation of Pathelective.com or hosting Virtual Open Houses and Meet and Greets by different programs. As an international applicant, I feel that I am very well supported during my application process, which very few of my peers applying in other specialties may be. It is no doubt, very rightly said, you are best in what you do by heart, and for me the answer to that is pathology.
A huge thank you goes out to Dr. Syeda Qasim for sharing her story with us and with you. Stay tuned for next week’s part three of Path to Pathology where we will hear from a current resident at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA. If you’re interested in sharing your path to pathology, please contact Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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