Pathology, it’s in the blood: Dr Julie Lokan and Dr Anand Murugasu
Doctors Julie Lokan and Anand Murugasu met during their training to be Anatomical Pathologists in August 2004. In 2005, Anand made the leap and moved to Melbourne where Julie was already living. They are now married with three children and live together in Melbourne where they work as anatomical pathologists, Anand at Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Julie at Austin Health.
“I was interested in pathology as an undergraduate, it was my favourite subject because it seemed to me that the essence of clinical medicine was the study of disease. I guess I discovered an affinity for microscopy even back as far as second year histology classes. When some of my classmates were complaining about indecipherable ‘pink and blue dots’ I was seeing a wonderland of colours and patterns. I have a very visual brain, and used to notice small details in the world around me from an early age. In retrospect it is no surprise that I gravitated towards pathology. Nonetheless, I needed to experience clinical medicine for a while before the idea to do pathology took hold during my third year of medical residency. A position became available in microbiology, so I leapt right in!
“Microbiology was very interesting. For a while I contemplated doing microbiology as a speciality, but soon realised it was fast becoming the domain of infectious diseases physicians rather than pathologists. I then switched to Anatomical Pathology. I joined the department at the hospital where I had done most of my medical resident rotations. They were lovely, welcoming, and inspiring teachers of the craft! I distinctly remember a calm and quite joyous feeling of knowing I had finally made the right career choice; it came to me when I was selecting tissue to examine under the microscope from an autopsy I had just performed, of all things! I really loved the challenge of tying all of the pieces of information from the medical history with what I had found at autopsy into a coherent story, which would hopefully provide answers to the treating team, and reassurance to the family. Detective work, problem solving, endless new learning, attention to detail, looking at pretty pictures down the microscope, it was everything I enjoyed!
“Anand and I met during our training, introduced through a mutual pathology friend of ours, who facilitated our interstate connection and encouraged Anand to make the leap of faith and move to Melbourne. We are both eternally grateful!
“Pathology husband and wife teams are not unheard of, but they are perhaps not common. It is really nice to have a life partner whom I can share my day with, and know he will really understand what I am describing. We also share cases with each other, and even ask each other’s advice about cases from time to time, as we have different areas of expertise. We work in different departments, and I suspect this is essential to maintaining harmony, and autonomous careers! Our personalities are quite different. Anand is very much an extrovert, and I am more introverted, though we are capable of meeting in the middle when required. Also, the way we practice pathology is slightly different, albeit equally valid, as we are in a different place on the “obsessiveness” spectrum!
“We have always found that our personality differences are complementary to each other - we fill in each other’s gaps, and this has made us a great team in life! In spite of our differences, our values and goals are essentially the same. We have found that having roughly the same career paths has provided us with a similar road to follow, which has worked very well for us and our family. We have a very equal relationship, an equality that extends both into our professional lives, our earning capacity, and our domestic responsibilities.
“We are both very passionate about the career we have chosen, and feel very lucky to have practiced morphological diagnosis in its “heyday”. We both enjoy teaching trainees and sharing our enthusiasm with them, hopefully to “pay forward” some of the enthusiastic teaching we received from our senior colleagues. Pathology is undergoing some changes as a specialty, with digital microscopy and molecular diagnostics evolving so rapidly, but we are looking forward to new challenges. No doubt we will be able to help each other evolve in the new diagnostic era.”
Dr Anand Murugasu
“My dad was a pathologist and my mum is a GP so I knew I wanted to do something medical, but pathology wasn’t ever something I thought hard about at Med School. I thought I would work in anaesthetics or in ICU but I tried that for a year and found I didn’t really enjoy it much. My Dad really enjoyed his job as a pathologist so I applied for a job and got on the program. I thought I would give it a year but after six months I found I really enjoyed it.
“The thing I love about Anatomical Pathology is that you can still be very general and have to see disease processes over lots of organ systems, and you get a real overview of it. Working in the hospital is really clinical. You’re involved with students and clinicians, and there is lots of research, so there are lots of opportunities to work across everything.
“I think pathology has something for everyone. There are certain traits that I think you do require to be a pathologist but Julie and I have very different personalities! There are a few husband and wife pathologists around but I wouldn’t say it is that common. Julie and I met through a friend who was a pathologist, but we met on a ski trip rather than through work. I saw Julie and thought she was pretty. She was a year ahead of me so I thought to ring her up and ask for exam advice, but really it was so I could ask her out.
“What I would say is that out of all the specialties, I think pathology and general practice are probably the easiest to be husband and wife because they are actually quite family friendly. You can both have pretty high-powered careers and still manage a family. At home we find we do talk about work a lot and use each other for advice – well, I use Julie!
“It is a really exciting time, not just in pathology but specifically Anatomical Pathology. In Oncology especially, there are big advances coming, which will be in understanding the molecular make-up of tumours. This will hopefully lead to some more targeted therapies, especially in breast cancer and prostate cancer, for example. The issue for these tumours, which sometimes get over-treated, is working out which of the tumours won’t do badly. So then you don’t over-treat them. The answer to this is through pathology.”
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This article appeared in the April 2019 Edition of ePathWay which is an online magazine produced by the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (http://www.rcpa.edu.au/Library/Publications/ePathway).
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