Dr. Bronwyn Bryant is one of the many UR School of Medicine and Dentistry graduates making their mark in the field of pathology.
She graduated UR with her medical degree in 2011 and went on to do her pathology residency at the University of Washington. Later, she completed two fellowships in gynecologic pathology and surgical pathology, respectively, at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Bryant is now assistant professor in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (specializing in gyn.) and associate program director of the pathology residency program at the University of Vermont, where she began working in August 2017.
Here, she shares more about how she entered the field and what inspires her to this day.
Does your current role allow you to do research, and if so, what are you currently working on?
My academic interests are focused on medical education. I’m currently looking at feedback and evaluation methods for our residents in their surgical pathology rotation by utilizing entrustable professional activities (EPAs).
What first sparked your interest in pathology?
Before starting medical school, I worked as a research assistant for a pathologist (Dr. Kim Boekelheide) at Brown University. I spent a lot of time in front of a microscope at this job. I enjoyed learning bits of morphology, and knew I would enjoy a career with so much microscope work.
I entered medical school thinking about pathology. I loved histology labs and helping my fellow classmates see the morphology. During my first two years of medical school, I attended the weekly autopsy case review whenever I could.
I tried to keep an open mind going into my clerkships, but after a surgical pathology elective in my third year, I was 100 percent sure I wanted to be a pathologist.
When you look back on your time here at URSMD, is there a particular person or experience that made a particular impact on you?
I remember Dr. Linda Schiffhauer presenting at the beginning of our second year Disease Processes and Therapeutics course. She was exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up to be a doctor. I quickly sought her out as a mentor to help shape my career towards academic practice and education.
I always knew I wanted to teach, and my experience in the Medical Education Pathway at UR gave me my first taste of education theory and training, which I’ve been developing and building on ever since.
How do you like to spend your free time outside of work?
Gardening, hiking and cross-country skiing, knitting, and cooking.
Tell us about your family.
I adopted a mutt named Nutmeg (named after nutmeg liver) during my last year in residency, and she is pure mischief and snuggles. When we moved to Michigan, she found my wonderful boyfriend, John, who is now finishing his Pathology residency at the University of Michigan.
What advice would you give up-and-coming pathology trainees looking to start their careers?
Keep an eye out for doors that open for you, as you’ll never know what opportunities may come your way, where they may lead, and what you may learn from them.
Each person to graduate from URMC’s first in-house clinical laboratory technology training program has tentatively accepted a job at UR Medicine Labs at Strong Memorial Hospital where the group is expected to start work this summer.
This is welcome news for the institution, and comes at a time when the number of available licensed medical technologists in New York State is critically low.
The training program was launched in 2017 after URMC ended a longtime partnership with Rochester Regional Health. The curriculum is comprehensive, including both lectures and hands-on work under one roof. Students receive instruction from technical staff and supervisors who work in the clinical labs, as well as Pathology and Laboratory Medicine faculty.
In its first year, the lab education team already views this program as a direct pipeline of licensed staff to help combat the statewide shortage. Upon their hiring, the 11 new graduates plan to work in labs including Clinical Microbiology, Automated (Chemistry) Lab, Flow Cytometry, and Toxicology.
“I am very excited by the success of our first graduating class,” said Melissa Allen, director of operations for UR Medicine Labs. “This is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved from our education manager, education coordinators, bench-level trainers, faculty, staff, and students.”
UR Medicine Labs supports an ever growing service region that performs testing for patients of affiliate hospitals including Strong Memorial, Highland, Strong West, FF Thompson (Canandaigua), St. James Mercy (Hornell), Noyes (Dansville), and Jones Memorial (Wellsville).
It also has more than 40 draw clinics scattered across Monroe, Genesee, Allegany, Steuben, and Livingston Counties to provide convenient options for patients.
UR Medicine Labs staff collectively performed more than 8 million patient tests in 2017 alone.
To learn more about the medical technology training program or to apply, visit their website.
Her colleagues have described her as a hidden gem, a well- kept secret, and even “human dynamite.” Dr. Janet Sparks, whose life ended suddenly in December 2017, had a career at URMC spanning more than three decades. Her accomplishments and legacy as both a researcher and mentor continue to impact those who had the chance to work alongside her.
Janet began her career as a medical technologist at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in medical technology and biology and, later, her Ph.D. While she ultimately pursued basic research, having a background in the clinical labs helped shape her perspective and understanding of disease.
Janet met her future husband, Dr. Charles (“Charlie”) Sparks, while she was working as a med tech at U. Penn. They were married in 1977, starting a longstanding personal and professional partnership. Both were hired onto the Pathology faculty at URMC where he worked primarily as a clinical pathologist and she ran the Sparks research lab.
The two collaborated on projects related primarily to cardiovascular diabetes. Their working relationship was built on mutual respect, explained Charlie, who says Janet was a devoted mother to their three children in addition to taking her work very seriously. Having the opportunity to work as a husband-wife team was, as he says, a privilege.
“When two people work together that closely, it could be good or bad,” said Charlie. “We would only argue about science so that by the time we got home, there was no time to argue about anything else.”
They continued this work after moving to Florida and split time between living there and at their longtime Pittsford home. At the time of her death (related to complications related to a myocardial infarction) the pair had a research collaboration with the University of South Florida. Janet had submitted an NIH grant that, at the time of this writing, was still awaiting approval. Charlie says he hopes to continue the work in her honor.
“I felt very good about the research we were doing and I would like to see it completed,” he said.
Across the University, many former colleagues and trainees have shared their memories of Janet – describing her as kind, driven, and a dedicated scientist.
One of her many mentees over the years was Dr. Jim Corsetti. He first crossed paths with her as a resident. When she saw that he was scrambling to find time to complete research experiments, she gladly jumped in to help, volunteering her time and lab space to run experiments for him.
“There wasn’t an awful lot in it for her except the satisfaction of helping somebody and getting them to a place where their career was more established,” said Corsetti, who credits her with teaching him the many nuances of lipids and lipoproteins, which he continued to explore during his career.
“To degree that I’ve gotten good in those areas, it certainly was she that brought me there,” he said. “She was so good in the lab and very generous with her time.”
Janet also mentored Dr. Linda Schiffhauer during a teaching fellowship. In addition to being a role model, Schiffhauer was happy to call her a friend.
“She was a great mentor and advocate for me in so many ways when, in my career, I probably needed it the most,” said Schiffhauer. “She was all that you could ever want in a mentor.”
Those who knew her remember Janet’s enthusiasm for nutrition and exercise. She would get up before dawn to make coffee and hit the gym before heading into work. Her energy was contagious.
“She was most passionate about her research,” said Joanne Cianci, who worked in the Sparks lab for more than 20 years. “Her work was a huge part of what she was, but she cared about people and established a culture of complete trust.”
Janet was very well known internationally, being listed in both Who’s Who in America and the world. There will be a memorial tribute in The Journal of Lipid Research. She sat on numerous review committees, including for the NIH. She was quiet and humble which is one reason why she was better known internationally than locally.
In spite of her own skill and accomplishments, those who worked alongside Janet in the lab say she was a very hands-on instructor; a daily coach who always sought to encourage and elevate her trainees.
This quality left an impression on many, including Dr. Thuy Phung who had Janet as her PhD thesis advisor and worked in Sparks lab for four years.
Phung had never heard of Janet until she was sitting in the office of the MD/PhD director at the time. He suggested working with Janet because she was a well-hidden secret. What did he mean by that?
“He said that she was highly valuable and skillful, but not well known,” said Phung. “She was talented and humble as well, which to me is a virtue.”
In this way, she modeled what it meant to be a good scientist, fueled by constant curiosity, Phung explained.
“She was doing experiments even until the last days.”
This story appeared in the April 2018 edition of the Pathways to Excellence Newsletter.