By - October 11, 2021
Tricia Murdock, MD, grew up on the Tuscarora Nation, thirty minutes north of Buffalo, New York. Her father is Mohawk and her mother is half Tuscarora and half French Canadian, and she spent the first six years of her academic career attending school on the Tuscarora Nation. Dr. Murdock received a biochemistry degree at the University at Buffalo, and after her junior year, she participated in the Four Directions Summer Research Program at Harvard Medical School. It was then she decided to pursue a career in medicine.
After completing a post-baccalaureate program at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Murdock attended the University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM). At UWSOM, she completed the Indian Health Pathway program that allowed her to work with Native communities during her clinical rotations. During her last year of residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Vermont, Dr. Murdock made the decision to go into pathology to pursue gynecologic pathology. She then completed a gynecologic pathology fellowship at Johns Hopkins, where she is now an assistant professor.
Here, she shares her thoughts on making the switch to pathology and how increased exposure can encourage more Indigenous People to consider a career in the laboratory.
How has your Tuscarora heritage influenced your pathway in medicine?
The Tuscarora Nation is a matrilineal society, and women in our community are a bit more respected when compared to American society. Once I decided to go to medical school, I never felt like becoming a doctor was something that I couldn’t do.
Gender didn’t play as much of a role in my decision to attend medical school as exposure to careers in medicine. When I did the summer research program at Harvard and saw there were Native physicians doing good things, I thought, I can do that. Growing up, I didn’t have any Native physician role models, or anyone around me that went into graduate biomedical sciences, so seeing these new role models was pivotal in my decision to pursue a career in medicine.
Tell us about your work bringing visibility of the profession to Indigenous People and underserved populations.
I'm part of the Johns Hopkins Pathology Diversity Committee. We organize different outreach programs like going to historically Black medical schools and local high schools, and some Native conferences and try to recruit students into pathology.
For about 20 consecutive years, the National Native American Youth Initiative would bring 20 high school students to the DC region, and they would tour through the NIH, Georgetown, and American University and look at different careers in medicine and graduate programs. I thought it would be great if Hopkins Pathology were involved with that, so we went to DC a couple times and had a microscope station, a “traveling autopsy,” and a paleontology station. At the “traveling autopsy” station, we described different specimens to the students such as a lung with tumor from smoking, skin with melanoma, and described different preventative medicine measures (don’t smoke, use sunscreen, etc.) to the students. It also was a chance to showcase pathology, and I really enjoyed doing that. Unfortunately, the NNAYI program lost funding a few years ago.
The last time the Association of American Indian Physicians met in person, I spoke with the medical students and told them about the program we have at Johns Hopkins Pathology where we bring in second- and third-year medical students. The students can rotate through the Hopkins Pathology Department for one month. Their rotation is tailored to them—if they’re interested in blood bank, they might spend three weeks in the blood bank and a week of microbiology. Or if they’re interested in GYN pathology, they might spend two weeks in GYN pathology and a week of autopsy and surgical pathology. It’s a great opportunity and a great way for medical students to gain exposure to the field of pathology. One of the reasons I did a residency in obstetrics and gynecology first was because I didn’t have enough exposure to careers in pathology.
How can we increase visibility of the profession to develop a more diverse workforce?
One of the reasons I pursued science in college was because we had a small health clinic within the Tuscarora Elementary School that served the community members. If you needed labs done, you had to go somewhere else. I thought it'd be great to have a lab within the clinic that could serve the community. We need skilled people to run labs in these communities.
I also think about the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Native communities that may not have had access to a COVID-19 test or access to a lab. I know that some of the Native populations are relatively small, and it’s not feasible to have lab service in every community, but providing access to lab services would be a good way to introduce communities to the field of pathology. Chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are prevalent and a lab outreach day to screen community members and explain what pathologists do is a great community outreach tool. Also, speaking with local high school or college students is a great way to get students thinking about pathology and the many career options within the field.
ASCP Director of Communications + Editor of Critical Values