New Gastrointestinal Pathologist Strives for Excellence and Joie De Vivre

By Elizabeth Walker | March 26 2018

Like many pathologists, Maria Westerhoff, MD loves the thrill of a mystery and making a diagnosis. She also appreciates the opportunity to focus on one case at a time and of being able to devote her entire thought process to each patient. However, it was the excellence in diagnostics and teaching demonstrated by the pathologists who instructed her second-year medical school courses, that ultimately led her to specialize in the field. Now, a desire to propel her research has brought her to the University of Michigan.

Westerhoff completed her residency in pathology at the University of Chicago and stayed on for a fellowship in gastrointestinal and liver pathology working with Dr. John Hart. She then joined the faculty of the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle from 2011 - 2017. There, she rose up the ranks to Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomic Pathology within five years. She also served as an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine.

Twice-chosen as a recipient of the Anatomic Pathology Faculty Teaching Award by UW pathology residents, Westerhoff benefitted from the guidance of another mentor of her own. U-M Department of Pathology’s M.R. Abell Professor of Surgical Pathology, Henry Appelman, MD reached out to her when she was a junior faculty member. “I didn’t really know him very well but he checked in on me and introduced me to other junior faculty,” she recalls. That group of young pathologists became close friends and supported each other by collaborating on research. “It was wonderful that he would reach out and bring this group of young faculty together. That's the way academics should be, so that just made a big impression on me.”

Inspired to specialize in GI and liver pathology as a result of her grandfather’s diagnosis of liver cancer from hepatitis B, Westerhoff’s research interest includes liver cirrhosis, as well as other areas of GI and liver pathology such as Barrett’s esophagus. Traditionally, the ability for the liver to regress in fibrosis after a certain point has not been thought possible. Westerhoff explains that this is no longer the case. “There can be regression of fibrosis. It's an exciting and controversial subject.”

Nationally, Westerhoff serves as the Chair of Education for the Rodger C. Haggitt Gastrointestinal Pathology Society, is an education committee member of the Hans Popper Hepatopathology Society, and is on the Scientific Board of World Organization for Specialized Studies of the Oesophagus (OESO). She has published 30 manuscripts in refereed journals and has landed the cover three of those times. She’s also contributed to eight book chapters. For a chapter in Surgical Pathology Clinics - Gastrointestinal Pathology: Common Questions and Diagnostic Dilemma, in press from Elsevier Publishing, Inc., she worked with U-M Department of Pathology’s Godfrey Dorr Stobbe Professor of Gastrointestinal Pathology Laura Lamps, MD. That experience collaborating with Lamps was a big factor in Westerhoff deciding to make the move to Michigan. “I have always been a great admirer of Laura Lamps as a powerful representative of our field to the general medical world. From the book chapter collaboration, it was so clear that she and I worked well together.”

“I feel like I'm joining a group of friends and mentors, people who are jovial but excellent.”

The opportunity to learn from giants in the field like Lamps, Appelman, and Joel Greenson, MD, made U-M the perfect choice in Westerhoff’s mind. She appreciates being able to sit in on the lectures and sign-out sessions of these great educators. She is also thrilled to have made new friendships with fantastic colleagues Drs. Karen Choi, Jiaqi Shi, Asma Nusrat, and Scott Owens. “I have found it to be true that U-M is clearly the home of some of the best GI pathologists.”

With departmental support for the research projects she is pursuing, a desire to strive for excellence in patient care, and a mission to educate future generations of pathologists and physicians, Westerhoff feels she’s right where she belongs. “I feel like I'm joining a group of friends and mentors, people who are jovial but excellent.”


Fun Facts About Dr. Westerhoff

Chosen as one of Seattle Met's Top Doctors of 2014, Westerhoff was also one of the American Society for Clinical Pathology's 40 Under Forty in 2017.
Westerhoff likes to bike with her family, including her husband and three children, aged two, four, and six. She also walks to and from work each day.
Considering herself a Francophile, Westerhoff tries to carry joie de vivre each day and met her husband in a French class her freshman year of college.
Loving to craft, Westerhoff creates 3-D vessels by felting with wool. “My whole house is tidbits and scraps of wool. I'm set for life,” she explains.