It goes without saying that 2020 was truly a whirlwind year! When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early March, everything changed. The pandemic saw shifts in everyday life and created a profound impact in the field of medicine. With it, laboratories shut down, work became remote, and events were canceled. The community had no choice but to adapt. Although it was an unorthodox year for the Department of Pathology, we'd like to take a look back on the year.
January 6th saw the department host the cross-department kick-off of the Michigan Medicine Laboratories (MLabs) – A Strategy for Transformation and Revolution (MSTAR) initiative at Back Office Studios in Ypsilanti. This event was followed by a March 12th Synchronization Retreat at Frutig Farms in Ann Arbor. These day-long sessions focused on repositioning MLabs in the market. Led by Drs. Jeffrey Myers and Julia Dahl, the retreat consisted of several talks, open discussions, and team-building exercises.
On February 7, the department hosted the 11th annual CHAMP Research Symposium at North Campus Research Complex (NCRC). CHAMP, the acronym for “Clinical, Hemato-, Anatomic, Molecular Pathology”, is a one-day event dedicated to science, learning, and networking, among the department’s faculty, staff, and trainees. The event was hosted by Dr. Aaron Udager with its keynote speaker being David Klimstra, MD, from Memorial Sloan Kettering. Among its other speakers, Dr. Laurie Griesinger was recognized as the 2020 Philip Giesen Award recipient, an accomplishment granted to a resident who demonstrates outstanding expertise within their research.
The first COVID-19 case in Michigan was diagnosed on March 10, 2020. Within a week, the Department of Pathology had developed, tested, and received approval for new PCR-based diagnostic tests. This was followed by new serology tests to identify IgG and IgM antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Later in March, the department co-hosted the 2020 Mucosal Immunology Symposium at U-M's Palmer Commons. Keynote speaker, Dr. Nicholas Lukacs, discussed the importance of finding a career path you love. This talk kicked off the day-long conference that also saw several speeches, networking opportunties and poster presentation sessions.
By April, the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the state of Michigan. Community leaders urged everyone to do their part by limiting the spread of the virus and "flattening the curve". This included avoiding gathering in public areas, washing hands regularly, and wearing masks to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Support began pouring into Michigan Medicine as civilians praised many of the essential frontline workers who continued to care for patients as the pandemic raged on.
The Department of Pathology hosted its first-ever Equality Walk to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday. Here, faculty and staff members within the department gathered in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, against racial discrimination, and in remembrance of George Floyd.
Later in the summer and as a result of the pandemic, the Department was unable to host its annual going-away party for the 2019-2020 class of Residents and Fellows. However, the team of Camren Clouthier, Marie Goldner, and Pamela Howard, along with departmental leadership, joined forces to create two farewell videos as a way to give the trainees the proper send-off.
Effective July 1, the Department welcomed Dr. Liron Pantanowitz as the new Director of Anatomic Pathology, succeeding Interim Director, Dr. Jeffrey Myers. Dr. Pantanowitz joined Michigan Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and brings a wealth of expertise in pathology informatics, cytopathology, surgical, bone and soft-tissue, as well as diagnostic skills.
As the pandemic continued, state leadership urged the community to wear masks in order to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. It was no different for the teams within the department and at the hospital. Folks sported their masks in everything from sign-out, to research, to clinical responsibilities.
Finally, the team led by Drs. Ania Owczarczyk, Madelyn Lew, Kristine Konopka, Carol Farver, Brent Temple, and Camren Clouthier worked together in order to produce a 15-minute long video focused on the department's residency program as a way to aid its recruitment efforts. The video comes on the heels of Dr. Konopka's August 1 promotion to Residency Program Director, succeeding Dr. Allecia Wilson.
In December, Michigan Medicine received its first doses of the COVID-19 immunization from Pfizer, Inc. and BioNTech. The initial vaccines were offered to frontline healthcare workers including faculty, staff, and student employees at Michigan Medicine. The first round of vaccinations was distributed at the University Hospital, outside of Ford Auditorium. By December 31, approximately 6,928 vaccines had been administered to frontline workers.
By the end of 2020, the Department had processed nearly 262,000 diagnostic tests and more than 9200 antibody tests. Pathology faculty, staff, and trainees volunteered to serve in various roles to meet the needs of the influx of COVID-19 patients, including staffing drive-through testing, logistical coordination for supply needs, and much more. Our faculty, staff, and trainees stepped up and helped Michigan Medicine care for our patients in unprecedented ways.
The Department of Pathology wishes to thank all of its students, faculty, staff, and frontline workers for their efforts and hard work in 2020, despite the challenges it brought. As we turn the corner of this pandemic, 2021 promises to be a great year.