Year in Review: 2021

By Camren Clouthier | January 31 2022

Last year was an eventful time within the Department of Pathology at Michigan Medicine. The continuing COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on everything from Experimental Pathology to Autopsy and Forensic medicine. As we reminisce about 2021, let's revisit some of the greatest memories.

The year started off with Department Chairman Dr. Charles Parkos' annual welcome message to students, faculty and staff, conveying positive encouragement to everyone for the big year that was to come.

Early on, the Department bid farewell to several long-time staff members who were retiring. These included Pamela Howard, Bill LeBar, Linda O'Brien, and many others.

The yearly United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology (USCAP) meeting took place in March, where several faculty members participated, albeit in virtual format. The event featured 12 live interactive microscopy courses, 37 short courses, one long course, three special topics courses, 17 evening conferences, and 31 companion society meetings. The conference also incorporated various poster sessions, live Q&A segments, a virtual exhibit hall, and many social events. Dr. Laura Lamps officially began her term as USCAP's President and impressive contributions from the likes of Drs. Joel Greenson, Sandra Camelo-Piragua, Rohit Mehra, and others, helped the Department shine.

Lab Week 2021 | Graphics provided by ASCPIn April, Medical Laboratory Professionals Week (MLPW) was celebrated, with a theme of "Avengers in the Lab". Participants were involved in several fun activities including a face mask decorating competition, costume contest, virtual 5K race, lab Bingo, and much more. Efforts from Amy Drouillard, Kristina Martin, Christine Rigney, and more made the year's celebration a big success!

As springtime arrived, the Department of Pathology's Clinical Microbiology team was once again tasked with confronting the escalating needs for COVID-19 testing. As case volumes increased, the laboratory stepped up, adapted, and effectively responded to the crisis. "If it weren’t for the efforts of our pathology teams, a lot of public health officials and colleagues would have to be guessing as to how to best handle the pandemic,” said Senior Medical Technologist Christine Kizer. “We take incredible pride in what we do — and that makes it easier for us to sleep at night.”

The month of May highlighted the Department's Physician-Scientist Training Program (PSTP) as experts including Drs. Charles Parkos, Aaron Udager, Sriram Venneti, Celina Kleer, Arul Chinnaiyan, and David Lombard discussed what makes this program so unique. "The Department of Pathology is very committed to training the next generation of physician-scientists in pathology," stated Dr. Udager. "The opportunities that this program affords really exemplify our commitment to that goal."

Equality Walk 2021The summer kicked off with the second-annual Pathology Equality Walk, led by Dr. Jeffrey Myers and Medical Laboratory Scientist Jenna Koelsch. The event took place at the North Campus Research Complex in observance of the Juneteenth holiday and included over 60 faculty, staff, residents, and fellows. The walk included a trip around the perimeter of the NCRC and featured an 8-minute, 46-second kneel to honor the legacy of George Floyd.

Later in June, the Department said farewell to its graduating class of Residents and Fellows. Our five graduating residents and 19 fellows moved on to exciting new career pathways within the world of Pathology. In the following month, Pathology welcomed its new class of six Residents, each from different institutions, who just arrived at Michigan Medicine. Among them were Drs. Ashley Brent, Ryan Cecchi, Elaina Daniels, Elizabeth Higginson, Amber Holtz, and Michael Olp.

At the same time, the Department said hello to a new class of Fellows and Clinical Instructors that included approximately 20 new incoming physicians training in a variety of subspecialty areas, many of whom previously completed residency training or another fellowship at Michigan Medicine. Laura Jacobus joined the education team to work closely with Marie Goldner and assist in coordinating the Residency program. Furthermore, Dr. Sean Li, along with Drs. Sara Abbott and David Manthei assumed leadership of the Residency program, succeeding Drs. Kristine Konopka and Allecia Wilson. Finally, Dr. Carol Farver departed from the institution, with Dr. Kathleen Cho being appointed as the Interim Director for the Division of Education while the search for a permanent replacement ensued.

In the heart of the summer, there was major progress made on the Pathology Renovation and Relocation (PRR) front. Here, the walls in Phase 2.2's construction area came down in order to give way to the new-and-improved Core Laboratory at the University Hospital. "The culmination of this phase of construction takes us one step closer to our collective goal of newly designed and state-of-the-art laboratories within the University Hospital to provide optimal care to our patients, explained Senior Project Manager Christine Baker. "Over the next two years, the barriers caused by space constraints will continue to come down as we move towards the completion of our project."

Dr. Sara Abbott

During September, the formation of a Pathology Anti-Racism Taskforce was announced; a new initiative dedicated to promoting equality and eliminating racism in the health system, on the Michigan campus, and within the greater community. "We are following the example of Michigan Medicine's Office of Health, Equity and Inclusion (OHEI), by organizing staff and faculty as part of our ongoing commitment to anti-racism as a strategic priority," noted Dr. Kathleen Cho.

Additionally, members from the Forensic Pathology section represented the Department at the 55th Annual Meeting of the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) in West Palm Beach, Florida. The seminar featured hundreds of platform and poster presentations, as well as an international forum for discussion of a broad range of issues pertaining to forensic pathology and death investigation. Residents and faculty from Michigan Medicine attended, including Drs. Allecia Wilson, Leigh Hlavaty, Lok Man Sung, Omar RayesTeresa Nguyen, along with many others.

September was marked by the sudden and tragic passing of Martin Lawlor, the Department's Chief Department Administrator at age 56. "I will truly miss Marty in ways that words can’t describe," expressed Dr. Charles Parkos. "I am immensely grateful for his many contributions and his friendship... I will miss him a lot.”

Pathology Fall Picnic

On October 10, the Department also hosted the yearly Fall Picnic, an in-person event at Wiard's Orchard in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Everyone from faculty to staff, to trainees, came out for a day of fun in the fall weather. Attendees participated in hayrides, pumpkin picking, visiting the petting zoo, and more. Lunch, along with cider and donuts, was served at the pavilion. Employees had the chance to mingle and connect with colleagues from all different areas of Pathology. "After what has sometimes felt like a decade of pandemic stress, it brought me such joy to see our pathology staff and their families gathering together to enjoy the beautiful day and all the fall activities that Wiard’s Orchard offers," remarked Shirley Hoffman.

As the year began to wind down, the Department released the 2021 Inside Pathology magazine, a publication that recounted the challenges and triumphs in the Department's grapple with COVID-19 in 2020. The magazine featured a number of insightful perspectives from Drs. Riccardo Valdez, Asma Nusrat, Carmen Gherasim and many more. The magazine was written, compiled, and edited by Pathology's Communications Team of Lynn McCain, Brent Temple, and Camren Clouthier.

Above: (Left-Right) Chris Rigney, Kristina Martin, Jeff Myers, David Golden, Charles Parkos, Ric Valdez, and Christine Baker.December offered another PRR update, as the automation line at the University Hospital's Core Laboratory officially went live. Leaders from the Department received a tour from the lab team comprised of Eric Vasbinder, Mary Tocco, Todd Teifer, and Christine Baker, who guided them through the new space and offered explanations about all of the new equipment. "These automation lines are the result of years of planning, and literally, hundreds of hours spent envisioning, forecasting, designing, and training involving laboratory scientists, architects and equipment planners, engineers, project managers, IT experts, construction teams, and partnering vendors," noted Baker.

Finally, the year closed with a new installment of Pathology on the Street, hosted by Kristina Martin and Christine Rigney. The video focused on COVID-19 and why people elected to get vaccinated against the virus. Later, a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in Michigan dampened hopes of an in-person holiday celebration. However, Department leadership responded by providing boxed lunches to staff, faculty, and trainees at BSRB, UH and NCRC.

By the end of 2021, the Department had conducted 545,283 COVID diagnostic tests and 15,173 serologic (antibody) tests since the beginning of the pandemic. Approximately 275,000 of the diagnostic tests and 5,740 of the serologic tests were conducted in 2021. 

Our faculty and trainees published 571 publications, received 40 new grants and processed nearly 7.4 million overall tests in the Fiscal Year 2021. The organization welcomed many new faculty and staff members and maintained its tradition of excellence in delivering outstanding patient care, conducting research, supporting educational pursuits, and combatting the challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As the calendar flips into 2022, we would like to wish everyone a healthy and successful year here within the Department of Pathology!