What words do you associate with pathology? Autopsy? Mortician? Maybe so, but the field of pathology entails much more, as Jennifer Baccon, M.D., Ph.D., can attest. Along with serving as a professor and chair of pathology at Northeast Ohio Medical University, Dr. Baccon considers herself an advocate for subspecialties within the field.
“There’s anatomic pathology, which entails things like autopsies, surgical pathology and cytopathology. Then there’s the realm of clinical pathology, which includes all the blood tests and other tests that we do to help our patients. Clinical pathologists oversee all the laboratory testing that goes on inside hospitals and clinics,” explains Dr. Baccon, who clearly relishes the field in all its variety.
Practicing for pathology
After completing an undergraduate degree at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, Dr. Baccon decided to enroll in the M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. She studied a neurodegenerative disease called spinal muscular atrophy – a condition that affects parts of the nervous system that controls muscle movement – and earned a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology.
Following the completion of her dual degree, the physician researcher remained at the University of Pennsylvania to complete an anatomic pathology residency, coupled with a neuropathology fellowship. She later completed a surgical pathology fellowship at Penn.
After spending eight years at Penn State University in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Dr. Baccon was presented an opportunity for a shared faculty position at NEOMED and Akron Children’s Hospital. It was her strong dual foundation in both the clinical and research aspects of pathology that landed Dr. Baccon appointments at these two Northeast Ohio institutions, beginning in July 2017.
As the chair of pathology at NEOMED, says Dr. Baccon, “I see myself as an advocate for the field of pathology – not only in terms of curricular content, but in terms of helping students to learn all about this subspecialty.” She directs the general pathology course at NEOMED, teaches various labs throughout the College of Medicine’s curriculum and oversees third- and fourth-year medical students who are completing elective pathology rotations at Akron Children’s Hospital. Dr. Baccon has also served on the curriculum committee for the past two and a half years.
At Akron Children’s Hospital, Dr. Baccon serves as the chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. She continues to regularly practice neuropathology and renal pathology.
Setting others up for success
Advocate, educator or practitioner – it doesn’t matter which hat she is wearing. Dr. Baccon wants to set interested students on the best path towards a career in pathology.
“Pathology is fantastic. If a student is interested in pathology, they should start thinking about and learning more about what the field entails,” she says.
“Getting a broad exposure to all sorts of different fields during their clerkships and electives helps students understand the differences between the areas,” she explains. Completing at least one month’s worth of pathology electives before applying for residency is invaluable, she says, to help students begin sorting out their options.