By - September 28, 2023
In middle and high school, Catherine Stefaniuk, DO, MBA, FASCP, was fascinated by forensic medicine. The idea that criminals could be identified using genetic testing was exhilarating, and she was amazed at how much could be learned from an autopsy. Shows like Dr. G: Medical Examiner and Mystery Diagnosis further cemented the thought that she could flourish as a pathologist, and combined with her interest in molecular genetic studies, led her to pursue a career in medicine. Here, Dr. Stefaniuk shares more about her path to pathology, and the experiences she’s had so far in her career.
During my time in medical school, I became interested in other areas of medicine, especially since there were minimal pathology rotations available. I thought pursuing surgery would be right for me since I would be physically involved in patients’ care and see their outcomes. Soon, I discovered that I was missing a lot of the probing aspects that attracted me to medicine in the first place. I had felt lost. Then, while in a surgical procedure, the pathologist walked into the operating room and was going over what his findings were which led us to change our course of action. When he came in, he reminded me why I decided to be a doctor. I had a more in-depth conversation with him and some other pathologists. I then started to fill out applications to pursue a pathology residency.
I love the investigational nature of pathology. During my residency, I became interested in molecular genetic pathology and coagulation. My favorite rotations were in the clinical pathology sections. When clinicians reach out to me about complex cases, I enjoy reviewing the cases, investigating literature, and helping them come up with a solution. The clinical lab tends to be a ‘black box’ for most medical departments, so being able to educate others about what happens behind the scenes has been very fulfilling for me.
I first got involved in ASCP during residency. A few pathologists that I knew had applied for the 40 Under Forty either being designated as an honoree or selected as the top 5. With the accomplishments I had made in our clinical lab, my family members and friends encouraged me to apply despite me being nervous. Glad I did!
The biggest challenge facing the laboratory is getting people interested in pursuing this as a career option. When I was in middle school and high school, I only knew of doctors, nurses, and researchers in the medical field. As an undergraduate, the only career options I thought existed for me were becoming a medical doctor (focusing on pathology) or pursuing research as a PhD. I did not know about all the different positions that are available in pathology such as clinical scientist, laboratory based genetic counselor, medical technologist, histotechnologist, pathology assistants, and technical assistants. If students do not know that these career paths exist, it is hard to get them to train in these areas. With a limited number of people in the workforce to fill these open positions, the clinical lab suffers from staff shortages and burn-out.
I highly recommend trying to shadow medical laboratory professionals, pathology assistants, histotechnologists, and pathologists (depending on your area of interest). This way, you can learn about the good and the bad aspects of working in the medical lab.
Team Critical Values