Pathology, Passion, and Empowerment: Q&A with Denise Dailey, MD, 2023-'24 Pathology Chief Resident

Denise Dailey grew up on the picturesque island of Dominica in the Caribbean where her "healthy obsession" with watching TV crime shows like CSI and NCIS sparked her passion for becoming a forensic pathologist. As a busy PGY-3 and 2023-24 chief pathology resident at Montefiore Einstein - alongside Drs. Hania Shakeri and Fahad Sheikh - she is dedicated to achieving her ambitious goal. In the meantime, Dr. Dailey contributes significantly to the pathology profession and medical education through extracurricular activities.

Denise Dailey presenting her research
Denise Dailey presenting her research

When she was a fourth-year medical student at Ross University School of Medicine, located on Dominica, Dr. Dailey co-founded the Carib Elite Mentorship Program, a professional network connecting alums of international medical schools with high school students and prospective and current medical students. This groundbreaking initiative stems from her drive to combat the stigma faced by Caribbean medical students during their applications to US residency programs while addressing the microaggressions experienced by minority medical students during their rotations in US hospitals.

Her passion for mentoring doesn't end there. As a resident representative of the Pathology Interest Group at Einstein's medical college, Dr. Daily actively contributes to creating workshops highlighting the pathology subspecialties and promoting the field to medical students.

Dr. Dailey talked with the Scope about her experiences and insights regarding her non-profit organization, her work with Einstein medical students, and her next steps toward becoming a forensic pathologist.

What was the impetus to start the Carib Elite Mentorship Program?

DD: There's a belief that if an American student goes to a Caribbean medical school, it's because they're not good enough to get into a US medical school. MCAT scores may deter candidates from applying to American schools. Still, it's not the only reason students choose Caribbean schools – and their medical school of choice often doesn't correlate with their skills as a doctor. At one point, we decided to do something to combat this stigma. We created a community network where prospective and current medical students from schools like Ross University, St. George's University, the American University of the Caribbean, and the American University of Antigua can have access to current physicians, whether they're residents or practicing attendings, who graduated from these same medical schools. We started by highlighting the stories of these mentors and created a platform where mentees could request mentors based on their interests. Our goal was to increase the student's confidence and provide them with the tools and resources to match into a residency program and launch their careers. Before COVID, we could do community clinics and career fairs, and offer partial tuition scholarships. We are currently fully digital. However, the goal is to create this culture of excellence and to exemplify to young mentees that even if you might not have started at your best, it doesn't mean that you don't deserve to learn from the best and to be surrounded by the best and hopefully grow into the best doctor that you can be.

How did you get clinicians on board as mentors for the organization?

DD: We have a robust alumni network at Ross, and one of my coworkers had access to those alumni. Gradually, as the word grew and the network expanded, people started requesting to join and become mentors. Currently, we have 45 mentors in various subspecialties.

Do you believe the education at Caribbean medical schools is on par with US schools, and how are medical rotations structured for students?

DD: The education at Caribbean medical schools is on par, if not more rigid, because they compress the board-relevant material into a 16-month curriculum. The schedule allows the students to complete the coursework quickly and return to the US or Canada. The content is the same that's taught in US medical schools, but the shorter timeframe makes it difficult to learn the material required to pass USMLE Steps 1 and 2 to be eligible to rotate within the US and go on to graduate.

Each medical school has affiliated hospitals regarding medical rotations. Ross University, for example, affiliates with Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Michigan, California, and Illinois hospitals. In the third year, students match to one of these locations, and in the fourth year, they can choose to stay at the same hospital or rotate through hospitals in other states.

Pathology residents Drs. Fitra Rianto, Denise Dailey, Fnu Sapana, cytopathologist Dr. Mark Suhrland, and cytopathology fellow Dr. Denise Jacob, volunteering at the recent See Test & Treat event
Pathology residents Drs. Fitra Rianto, Denise Dailey, Fnu Sapana, cytopathologist Dr. Mark Suhrland, and cytopathology fellow Dr. Denise Jacob, volunteering at the recent See Test & Treat event.

How did you end up at Montefiore Einstein?

DD: After high school, I moved with my parents to New York and studied biology and chemistry at the College of New Rochelle, now known as Mercy College. Interestingly, I took part in the Summer Undergraduate Mentorship Program at Einstein. At that point, I already knew I wanted to do pathology. I was lucky to shadow Dr. Ronald Walsh, currently the Director of Moses Transfusion Medicine, and Dr. Robert Anthony, a former Einstein pathology researcher. After college, I was offered a full scholarship to attend Ross University and returned to Dominica for medical school. After two years, I returned to the US for rotations.

During my residency interviews, Montefiore invited me to interview. Having always lived in the Bronx with my family after leaving Dominica, I wanted to continue serving this diverse community and demographic. I was intrigued by the caliber of research they were doing and the commitment to community service. It just felt like home to me during my interview.

As the resident representative of the Pathology Interest Group at Einstein, how do you engage medical students in pathology and address the lack of exposure to the specialty?

DD: We want to provide a hands-on experience and show students the range of what pathologists do in different subspecialties. Some of our more popular events include workshops on blood typing, fine needle aspiration, and frozen section interpretation. We even organized a pathology art night in collaboration with Einstein's Ad Libitum magazine, where we used color to recreate different structures in the body.

Collectively, we must find creative and innovative ways to show students how pathologists have our hands in every subspecialty. At the recent American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP) conference in Chicago, the guest speaker, Michelle Obama, suggested that we get on social media and educate people on what we do. "Because I don't even know what you do," she said. It was funny because it's true; many people don't know. But you can do surgical pathology, blood banking, be a lab director – the list goes on. Nothing is off-limits to us. And I think that's what makes us so unique from other specialists.

What fueled your passion for forensic pathology?

DD: On our small island, we never had any forensic pathologists or postmortem examiners, which limited my opportunity for exposure. What usually happens after any suicide, homicide, or natural death is they wait to call a foreign pathologist to do the autopsy. You can imagine how it can cause significant discomfort and inconvenience to the families. My family and I experienced that in 2000 when my uncle died. When we moved to New York in 2009, I knew I wanted to gain total exposure to forensic pathology. After my summer internship at Einstein, I knew that was what I wanted to pursue as my subspecialty of interest.

What are your research interests?

My research is related to flow cytometry studies on T cells involved in CAR – T cell therapy. I am working alongside the oncology team.

What comes next?

I'll do a forensic pathology fellowship at George Washington University/DC OCME in 2024. Following that, I'll complete a pediatric pathology fellowship at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in 2025. I would love to be involved in public health studies related to child abuse cases. Forensic pathologists play a crucial role in understanding and analyzing these statistics, and I want to contribute to that aspect of the field.

Is anyone else in your family involved in medicine, or are you the first?

Not in my immediate family. My father was a high school teacher for 19 years and now works for the education administration. My mother is an employment lawyer in Foreign Affairs and Human Resource Management. My brother plans to pursue a law degree. I do have an aunt who is a nurse practitioner.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love travel, art, and culture. I enjoy going to museums and trying new cuisines. I recently cruised to Croatia, Santorini, Mykonos, and Italy.