A Pathology Trailblazer's Journey from Nigeria to the Bronx: Q&A with Shamsu Bello, MD, PGY1 Pathology Resident

For as long as he can remember, helping others has been a passion for Dr. Shamsu Bello. Hailing from the Kano province in northern Nigeria, Dr. Bello earned his medical degree in 2013 from Bayero University, where he graduated with honors. After completing pathology residency at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, a 500-bed public hospital in Kano that serves an underprivileged population, he spent two years as chief pathologist at the General Amadi Rimi Specialist Hospital in Batagarawa. Dr. Bello's medical journey led him to the Bronx for pathology residency training at Montefiore Einstein. The ambitious PGY1 resident currently has an eye toward specializing in hematopathology and molecular pathology, two areas of pathology in which training opportunities in Nigeria are limited.

"Shamsu has hit the ground running as a new resident," said Tiffany Hébert, MD, director of the pathology residency program and associate professor of pathology at Montefiore Einstein. "Working with him is a delight - he is engaged and inquisitive," Dr. Hébert added, noting how Dr. Bello and his PGY1 co-residents quickly pinpointed an interesting case to report and are looking into a case series in gynecologic pathology. "Given his prior pathology experience in Nigeria, Dr. Bello brings a wealth of knowledge to the program and serves as a peer and a role model for fellow residents,” she added. "I'm pleased he can share his experiences with the rest of us. We are all learning together."

Pathology residency programs celebrates the end of ‘Bootcamp’ with Dr. Bello and the new PGY1 residents.
Pathology residency program celebrates the end of ‘Bootcamp’ with Dr. Bello and the new PGY1 residents.

Over his short medical career, Dr. Bello has received several prestigious awards and grants. Most recently, he was named a Forty Under 40 honoree by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP), which recognizes pathology and laboratory medicine's rising stars and future leaders. In 2022, he received the National Medical Association (NMA) Future of Pathology Award and a travel award from the Digital Pathology Association (DPA) to attend the DPA PathVisions 2022 Conference, in Las Vegas. He presented his research examining inflammation tied to bladder cancer linked with schistosomiasis –a neglected tropical disease caused by parasitic flatworms. Dr. Bello was first author on a paper presenting the study’s findings, which was published in the Nigerian Journal of Basic and Clinical Sciences in 2021.

Dr. Bello shared his passion for pathology, technology, and caring for patients in underserved communities - and his first impressions of life in the Bronx.

Growing up in Nigeria, how did you first become interested in pathology?
SB: In medical school, the pathology program was a combination of classroom and hospital training. I wasn't 100 percent sure I wanted to go into pathology, but the exposure piqued my interest. The range of conditions you see on a slide - from benign to the most severely malignant – fascinated me. When I started practicing as a young doctor in medical school, we had no pathologists in my state. That convinced me to pursue pathology, and I couldn't be happier.

Why did you choose to come to Montefiore for your residency training?
SB: During my interview, I realized this hospital mainly serves underserved communities and is like my work in Nigeria, where I provided services to the less privileged in a public hospital. At Montefiore, you see interesting cases you might not see elsewhere. That helped in my decision to choose it as a place to train. Part of the reason I decided to pursue pathology as a career is to make sure that medical services are available to everyone, regardless of their economic status, location, ethnicity, or other reasons.

How is pathology practice different in Nigeria than here in the United States?
SB: In Nigeria, you can practice medicine before becoming a specialist. I practiced as a general practitioner, mostly in pediatric medicine, before becoming a pathologist. There are not many pathology fellowships and training programs available in Nigeria, so it's hard to specialize in the field.  Overall, practicing medicine is more challenging in Nigeria because resources are limited. The lack of essential medical equipment, including anesthesia equipment, hospital beds, incubators, and defibrillators, means many patients are unable to receive treatment. And a shortage of trained pathologists and limited laboratory resources make it hard to diagnose diseases. (According to a study in the NIH National Library of Medicine's Annals of Global Health, there are about 105 pathologists in Nigeria for a population of 213 million).

In July, you were named ASCPs Forty Under 40, which honors future leaders in pathology. How did that make you feel, and how will this honor help your career?
SB: I am grateful to the ASCP for finding me worthy of this esteemed award. The recognition motivates me to improve my professionalism and service to my patients and pursue my pathology training and career to the fullest. It's an honor and a challenge, given that I come from a region where pathology is less developed than here. I am responsible for maintaining that level of integrity as I continue in my career.

The Digital Pathology Association awarded you a 2022 Travel Award and invited you to present your abstract at the DPA PathVisions 22 Conference. Can you tell us about your research?
SB: It was a privilege to be invited to the conference. We examined the inflammation tied to bladder cancer linked with schistosomiasis (a neglected tropical parasitic disease caused by infection with schistosome worms that is common in areas with poor sanitation). We analyzed non-cancerous schistosomiasis cases in a tertiary hospital in Nigeria from 2012 to 2019. The findings showed no statistically significant differences between schistosoma ova density and degree of inflammation as well as fibrosis in both bladder and other organs. 

Your DPA Travel Award bio mentions you’re a member of a non-profit organization that guides younger generations to achieve success. Can you elaborate on that?
SB: In my medical school days, I mentored young students in my local community, helping to guide them to pursue higher education. We gave lectures and career guidance on weekends to help high school students choose a discipline that fits them best.

How do you like living and working in the Bronx so far?
SB: I like it very much. It's an opportunity for me to live with people from different cultures and backgrounds. New York City is so big, with so much to explore. I spend most of my time at the hospital, and the staff are friendly and helpful.

What do you like to do for fun or outside of work?
SB: I like to do things that have nothing to do with my professional work. On the weekends I like to watch sports, mainly soccer. I have been a Real Madrid supporter since 2000. I also like to watch movies and spend quality time with my family – my two little kids, ages 7 and 3, and my wife. That is one of the things I am missing since my family is not here with me yet.

Interview and story by Francisco Aguirre-Ghiso, a senior at Hendrick Hudson High School, in Montrose, NY, who volunteered this summer as a writing assistant in the department of pathology.