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PathA Program Meet Diane Eggers
PathA Program Class of 2008

Diane Eggers, Drexel PathA Program, Class of 2008

I first became interested in pathology while in high school, pretty much as soon as I learned what pathology was. I fell in love with dissection in my high school biology class, so when I learned that there was a corner of medicine that involved dissecting a human to determine how they died, I was immediately hooked! I was specifically interested in forensic pathology at the time, likely inspired by my love for the show Law & Order, and I started planning my career from there.

In college, I chose to major in forensic science, while following the pre-med track since medical school was the ultimate goal. It was actually my mom who first discovered a pathologists’ assistant program (I don’t even remember which school’s program it was that she first showed me), however I was in the process of applying to medical schools at that time, so I honestly didn’t look that closely at it. It was only during my first semester at medical school that I began to truly realize that pathology is a lot more microscopy than it is dissection. Now don’t get me wrong, the histology/microscopy side of pathology is fascinating, but the idea of spending most of my career behind a microscope was daunting. I loved the anatomy lab and really had a knack for dissection. I knew then that that is what I really wanted to be doing as a career. While I finished out that semester of medical school, I began looking into pathologists’ assistant programs and the profession in general, and it was exactly what I was looking for. After the semester was completed, I went home, got a job in a toxicology lab, started studying for the GRE and preparing myself to apply to a pathologists’ assistant program for the following year.

The Pathologists’ Assistant program at Drexel University was the first program I started researching. I liked the location in Philadelphia, as I have both family and friends in that area, and the program staff were very friendly and helpful while I gathered information about the program and through the application process. When I got my acceptance letter, enrolling was a no-brainer.

I’ve always had a great desire to travel, despite never really having a chance to do much of it by that point in my life! Between college and career goals, the time and the funds just weren’t there, but the desire had always been there. I remember at one point toward the end of my first year at Drexel, reading an article about New Zealand being one of the top-rated countries to live in and, quite honestly, falling in love with the country by the end of the article. I loved the accessibility to nature and all the outdoor activities available there, and every photo was just incredibly pristine landscape. Mountains, lakes, beaches, skiing, surfing, hiking, biking, camping, backpacking: You name it, New Zealand offered it. I knew I wanted to find my way there one day and started looking into possible job opportunities there.

I couldn’t find any job postings for pathologists’ assistants in New Zealand, although looking back on it now, who knows if I was even looking in the right places for job advertisements! I tried reaching out to a few hospitals in the larger cities (Auckland and Wellington) to see if there might be any interest in creating a position for me, and even had James Moore, Drexel’s PathA program director, write up a letter of recommendation for me. Ultimately, I never heard back from anyone, and as I was beginning to see just how much student loan debt I was going to have by the time I graduated, I decided to abandon my New Zealand plans for the time being. I was sad to do so, especially since I had no real idea if I would ever be in a position to make that sort of move later in my life.

After graduation I began my career working in pediatric pathology, which I really enjoyed. It was quite a learning curve considering it is pretty different from adult pathology in its approach and technique, but I enjoyed seeing the types of cases you just won’t see in adult pathology, like congenital defects and anomalies, which are often corrected early in life. I did, however, also realize that the longer I stayed in pediatrics, the less marketable I would become if I ever needed to move or find another job for whatever reason life decided to throw at me. I had reached a point in my life personally that I was in a position to consider doing locum tenens work as a pathologists’ assistant. This gave me the opportunity to work in a variety of different labs (teaching/community hospital, hospital versus private practice, etc.) to really get an idea of what sort of place I would like to end up working in a more permanent position. My travels ultimately led me across the country to California, where I decided to settle down again. I most recently found myself working with a private practice who recruited me after I had done some locums work with them in the past. Unfortunately, the job ended up being a bad fit, and I decided to begin searching for new employment.

About two weeks into my job search I saw a post from someone in a Facebook group for pathologists’ assistants regarding a job in New Zealand. It was a truly serendipitous moment for me. Not only was I looking for a new job, but here was an opportunity in the very country I had dreamed about moving to after all these years! That very afternoon I talked to my partner about the position and told him that I really wanted to apply, and he was in full support of the idea. I submitted my application and the two of us started aggressively researching the city of Dunedin, New Zealand (where the position was located), as well as moving to and living in New Zealand. In July of 2021, I was offered the position, which I enthusiastically accepted, and began planning for the very big, very exciting change in my life.

As one can imagine, trying to plan and execute an international move, in the middle of a global pandemic, to a country whose borders were currently closed to the world (due to the pandemic), was exhausting to say the least. Fortunately, the job offer included the assistance of an immigration consultant, who practically took care of all the visa applications for us. All we really needed to do was submit certain documents to the immigration consultant and they took care of the applications from there. This was a fantastic help but really, only one less thing we had to figure out. I still had to figure out my professional certifications to allow me to work in New Zealand, the logistics of moving our belongings across the globe, and the biggest challenge, landing a coveted spot in a managed isolation and quarantine facility upon arrival into the country. My soon-to-be employer, our immigration consultant and one of the New Zealand-based pathologists’ assistants I had connected with were all able to provide guidance and assistance in all these areas, which made things so much easier to accomplish, but from start to finish, the entire process still took six months to complete.

The pathologists’ assistant profession is virtually nonexistent in New Zealand, with only a handful of us currently employed in the entire country! Of the five of us, three are on-the-job trained, and two (including myself) are program trained (one from the U.S. and the other from Canada). No university in New Zealand offers a pathologists’ assistant program. Although it is my understanding that there was at least talk of developing one at some point, no one I have talked to here really knows what happened on that front. Now that I have settled into my new life here and am more familiar with the health care system in New Zealand, it is my goal to start researching what I would need to do to create a program here. I hope to have some sort of plan or proposal put together in the next two years that I can present to Otago Medical School here in Dunedin. I think the program would do well, especially considering that the need for pathologists’ assistants here is so great. There is a shortage of doctors in this country, and pathologists are no exception. Hospitals are trying to take on more registrars (aka residents) each year, but the consultants (aka attending physicians) either don’t have time to train everyone, or there aren’t enough consultants to handle training the registrars. I was even told one of the reasons that I was hired was to train the new registrars specifically because the pathologists didn’t have time to do it themselves and keep up with the microscopy…sound familiar? I very much see pathologists’ assistants becoming a widely accepted position within the health care system in New Zealand over the next decade.

Working here isn’t all that different from working in the U.S., from a technical standpoint. Our grossing standards are based on the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) rather than College of American Pathologists (CAP), but the two are almost identical. The RCPA doesn’t require quite as many sections on most cases compared to CAP, but how we approach/dissect certain specimens, the type of sections we take (i.e., greatest depth of invasion, normal/tumor interface, etc.) is the same. I will admit, it does seem like there is less pressure here compared to the States, but I think that’s more a cultural attitude regarding work/life balance rather than any sort of specific professional pressure. Privacy laws are pretty much the same, they are just called the Health Information Privacy Code 2020 (the most updated version of the laws) rather than HIPAA.

So here I am, a year and half into my new life in New Zealand and I can honestly say that I have no regrets. It was a lot of work to get here, and it was certainly more of an adjustment than I anticipated, but it was well worth it. I am excited for the opportunity to promote and hopefully grow our profession in a new country to a new generation of medical professionals.