Volunteering Ignites a Passion for Pathology: A Q&A with Dr. Mayumi Fernandez

By Mayumi Fernandez, MD - May 23, 2023

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When pathology resident Mayumi Fernandez was in high school, she wanted to gain more exposure to medicine. A volunteer position was open in the pathology laboratory at one of the largest healthcare systems in Oahu, and Dr. Fernandez took it—learning the ins and outs of the laboratory, from sorting slides, to labeling tubes, and typing up hand-written pathology reports, and in turn sparking her interest in pathology as a specialty in medicine. Here, she shares her thoughts on the need for diversity and inclusion in healthcare, mentoring pre-med and medical students, and more.  

What challenges have you encountered around increasing diversity and inclusion in healthcare? 

Although Hawaii is one of the most culturally diverse places to live, our AAPI representation in medicine is not reflective of our overall population. Filipinos are one of the majorities in the islands but are one of the most underrepresented groups for physicians. I think one of the challenges is the paucity of mentors available to our pre-medical students. When I was growing up, I did not know any physicians that had a similar cultural background to myself, so I had a harder time envisioning myself as a physician. Luckily, in college, I met a Filipino physician who became my mentor during the application process who helped me through it, and I think that made a huge difference in my journey to medical school. But at the time, I was one of the few who had that kind of support that is often critical to making it into medical school.   
Now, as a resident who mentors pre-med and medical students, I find that there are slightly more AAPI applicants to medical school but there is still a lack of awareness about pathology. Most of them find mentors who are trained in one of the more commonly known specialties and do not get as much exposure to laboratory medicine. Medical students who do electives in pathology in their third and fourth years often tell me, “Wow, pathology is super interesting! I wish I had known about it earlier; I might have considered applying to pathology residency.”   

How did you learn about pathology and laboratory medicine, and what do you enjoy the most about working in this field?  

My journey to pathology was initiated by a happy accident which fortunately exposed me to the field in high school. Thus, upon entering medical school, I was able to pursue electives and research projects which solidified my choice of specialty. Pathologists often have the final piece in the puzzle to decide the patient’s care plan, yet the patients often do not know that they are being cared for by a pathologist. I love working “behind the scenes” while still being an integral member of the multidisciplinary team.   

Why did you pick the areas in which you focus in your professional life?

I am planning to do a fellowship in gynecologic pathology. I have had a really great GYN pathologist as my mentor since medical school and did a couple research projects in breast/GYN pathology. I found that these specimens were the most interesting to me, especially with my pre-existing interest in women’s health prior to medical school. Hawaii hospitals are in a unique location in the Pacific, and we often get specimens from Guam, Saipan, Majuro, etc., in which women do not have the same access to care and thus present at later, more advanced stages of disease. More remote areas of the Pacific often do not have their own pathologists or lab system on-site so processing and reading their specimens is an important part of increasing access to care. Although pathologists may not be forward-facing to patients, we are an important part of increasing women’s access to early screening and disease prevention.

Mayumi Fernandez, MD

Pathology Resident