Finding Purpose in Pathology at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine

As a pathologist, Melanie Bois, M.D., doesn't see her patients face-to-face. She doesn't hear the struggle or fear in their voice as they talk about how they are feeling. Yet, she's critical to their care. The information Dr. Bois garners looking at samples of body tissue is often what allows care teams to unlock patients' medical mysteries and start treatments.

As each slide crosses her microscope, Dr. Bois knows that each is a story. A story like that of a young man she met as a student at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, then known as Mayo Medical School. Dr. Bois was embedded with a hospital team caring for the man as he became incredibly weak. It happened rapidly and nobody could explain why. The situation grew more dire as the increased weakness threatened to cause other serious complications.

Then, the team heard from a pathologist who had examined a tissue sample from the patient and discovered the answer.

"What sticks in my mind was the look of relief and gratefulness in his mom's eyes," says Dr. Bois. "The consultant told her that we had a name for what was going on with her son. We knew what her son was actually fighting and could turn our efforts to treating it."

Dr. Bois is now the pathologist bringing those answers to physicians, patients and families. Because of that experience, she knows that behind each slide she reviews, there is a story, and it's humbling to be the first to discover the answer.

Discovering a passion for medicine

While Dr. Bois finds deep meaning and intrigue working behind the microscope today, it wasn't where she envisioned working when she started college. In fact, she didn't even envision herself in health care. She was pursuing a degree in business with plans to go to law school.

That changed during her sophomore year in college when she had surgery for acute complications of an underlying autoimmune disease.

"I interacted with physicians and nurses daily in the hospital, and I saw what a difference their compassion made in my care and recovery," Dr. Bois says. "It gave me a renewed sense of purpose. I knew I had to at least consider going into medicine."

She returned to the University of Florida and enrolled in a couple of pre-medicine classes. In biology and chemistry, she discovered a passion that she hadn't experienced on her previous track toward a business degree. After the semester, she committed to pre-medicine as her major. She started shadowing physicians at her university and working in a lab doing research on cell proliferation models in insects.

When it was time to apply to medical school, Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine was her top choice. Dr. Bois knew Mayo Clinic well. Her dad, Steven Buskirk, M.D., is a radiation oncologist and longtime leader at Mayo Clinic who has served on Mayo Clinic's Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.

"My dad modeled the values every day as I was growing up. Those tenets resonated very deeply with me," says Dr. Bois. "There was no way to compete with Mayo Clinic in my mind, and the call that I was accepted was one of the biggest honors of my life."

Fascinating finds under the microscope

During medical school, Dr. Bois' career took shape when she was introduced to pathology. "I was considering radiology, pediatrics or psychiatry as specialties at the time. Pathology wasn't even on my radar," she says. "But my pathology teachers were phenomenal and drew me to the specialty."

Dr. Bois says it was like she discovered a secret world in her pathology courses, a world only comprehensible with the help of a microscope. She found it fascinating to read about how a disease process occurred and then watch it happen as she reviewed organ systems and looked at cells. She started to understand how diseases affect the body on a different level, satisfying her curiosity about how and why disease and illness happen.

Years later, she still approaches her work with the same enthusiasm.

"Every time I look at a slide under the microscope, there is more that I want to know and understand so I can better help patients," she says. "Better understanding how diseases work makes it possible to research how to prevent them from ever happening."

Eds Note: The individual featured in images was alone following social distancing guidelines, and in compliance with Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 safety guidelines while unmasked.


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Hope & Healing