Medical Student Rotations

Pathology is a very diverse specialty, with physicians called "pathologists" doing everything from rendering a microscopic diagnosis on a breast biopsy to directing the clinical microbiology laboratory and monitoring a new disease outbreak to performing a fine needle aspiration of a thyroid nodule to sequencing tumor DNA to detect K-RAS mutations and provide direction for prognosis and appropriate therapy to determining causes of death in autopsy. It is difficult to get a sense of all the roles played by pathology as students go through their medical school coursework, so we encourage you to explore this specialty by doing an elective clerkship rotation

Why do a rotation in pathology?

The obvious reason is to determine whether you are interested in pursuing residency training in this specialty. Rotating in pathology can be beneficial, however, to students interested in a wide variety of specialties.

The deep understanding of anatomy and disease that comes from performing autopsies and from understanding how the surgical pathologist goes from a resected portion of colon to a full diagnosis and staging of colon cancer is immensely beneficial to the student going into surgery, radiology, or gynecology. Understanding how the Blood Bank utilizes and assures the safety of transfused cells also makes one a better surgeon, anesthesiologist, or internist. Students focused on international health benefit from microbiology and hematology; using blood smears to diagnosis parasitic infections and anemias. Clearly, molecular diagnostics will play an increasingly large role in both preventative care decisions and in personalizing therapy. What will you say when your family practice patient drops his entire genomic sequence on your desk and asks what it means or when parents of your pediatric patient ask about the risks to their younger child? Improving your understanding of this area of medicine will be a lifelong endeavor.

Nuts and Bolts

Pathology electives can be 2 or 4 weeks in duration and can be divided up to allow experiences in different areas of pathology depending on the student’s interests and career goals. Surgical pathology and autopsy typically are included (1-2 weeks), but opportunities to rotate in hematopathology, transfusion medicine, chemistry, cytopathology, and molecular diagnostics also are available (typically for 1 week each). You may contact the residency program director, Erik Ranheim MD PhD (earanheim@wisc.edu) or the overall clerkship director, Dr. Shahriar Salamat MD PhD (ssalamat@wisc.edu) if you wish to discuss what rotation structure might best fit your career goals. Register for Pathology Rotations through OASIS or contact Joanne Thornton (jmthornt@wisc.edu) in the department for availability.