Clinical pathology career a custom fit

Dr. Melissa Meachem

Dr. Melissa Meachem: “I want to work as a clinical pathologist, but I really enjoy research and teaching as well.” Photo: Robyn Thrasher.

Originally from Spruce Grove, Alta., Dr. Melissa Meachem grew up among all kinds of animals ranging from the family dog to the cows, horses and sheep at her grandparents’ farm.

But the thought of a career as a veterinarian never entered her mind until her second year of undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta (U of A).

“I studied plant botany in my first year at the U of A,” says Meachem. “But then I found myself taking an anatomy course that involved the dissection of the cat and it was very fascinating.”

After exploring her options and spending about six months volunteering at a Spruce Grove veterinary clinic, Meachem decided that a career in veterinary medicine was the right path for her.

Graduating from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in 2008, Meachem returned to her hometown and worked in private practice. It was during this time that she began to discover her love for clinical pathology.

“I started to find I was getting really excited whenever I received blood or biopsy results,” she says. “It was like opening presents on Christmas day.”

When she heard a clinical pathology residency was available at the WCVM, Meachem returned to her alma mater in 2009 to begin a combined residency and Master of Veterinary Science (MVetSc) degree program in clinical pathology.

For her MVetSc research project, Meachem characterized the plasma proteome (entire set of proteins expressed by an organism) of cats with and without pancreatic cancer. She hoped to find differences that could help improve diagnosis of feline pancreatic cancer.

“If we can identify cats with pancreatic cancer earlier and with greater accuracy, we may be able to intervene and hopefully improve survival rates,” explains Meachem.

While her study provided valuable data demonstrating notable differences in protein expression, Meachem continues to collect plasma samples so she can strengthen her research findings.

During her time at the veterinary college, Meachem has realized the importance of keeping an open mind: “My advice is to always be open to other people’s opinions and be open for learning. I often find that I end up learning things in the least expected of places. Every day is a good learning opportunity.”

Since 2011, Meachem has been pursuing a PhD with a focus on proteomics and feline health and disease.

More recently, she has been intensely preparing for her upcoming American College of Veterinary Pathologists board examinations that take place over a three-day period in Ames, Iowa, in September.

After finishing her PhD program, Meachem aspires to have a career that combines several aspects of veterinary medicine: “I want to work as a clinical pathologist, but I really enjoy research and teaching as well. I’d love to have a job where I can accommodate all three focuses – the diagnostics, the teaching and the research. That would be my ultimate goal.”

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