Learn more about our Member Spotlight of the month, Indra Balachandran, PhD, SCT(ASCP)CFI from her conversation with Ms. Stacy Molnar.
2014 Member Spotlight Interview
- How did you first find out about cytology?
I have a background in zoology with a Master’s degree and had done some preliminary work for my PhD in India before coming to the United States. Upon arrival in Syracuse, I had difficulties obtaining gainful teaching or research positions. If I were to complete my doctorate in Biology, I could pursue an applied field in Biology or in health-related professions. I went to SUNY Upstate and looked at two programs, medical technology and cytotechnology. I was told that I was lacking humanities credits for the medical technology program and there was no guarantee if I took the required courses, I would be accepted into the program automatically. Next I went to the cytotechnology program. When I walked in, the Program Director, Dolores Nemeth, and the Medical Director, Dr. David B. Jones, were at the multihead looking at an interesting case. They treated me as though they had known me for years. I sat down at the multihead with them as they continued looking at various interesting cases, and I was literally awestruck to find how interesting it was to do such challenging microscopic work. Afterwards, they asked me why I was there and I told them I was interested in the Cytotechnology Program. They asked me about my background, and after telling them, they said, “You’re in!” and asked me to complete the admission formalities.
- What drew you to this profession?
My interest in learning and helping others. I wanted to do something that would keep up my interest so that I was learning something new and relevant all the time and at the same time, making a positive difference in somebody’s life. Even when I began teaching full time and was no longer performing routine screening, it is still a service because of my role as a teacher in training future cytotechnologists. I viewed my role as a teacher with enormous responsibility and tried my best to keep up with the new and emerging knowledge to share with my students.
- What do you like best about being a cytotechnologist?
Cytology is a constantly challenging, interesting field and also humbling as to what we do not know. The newly emerging understanding of carcinogenesis in various organs and patient centered therapeutics that are coming in, keep my interest level high. To state how much things have changed, I would like to say that when I started in the profession in the early 70’s, there was not aspiration cytology in the curriculum or in practice. Many of us trained ourselves by doing touch preps of gross specimens to gain an understanding of fine needle aspiration morphology. The field of Cytology offers so many opportunities because it is always evolving, with new knowledge being added all the time. Also, no two cases are the same. Then there are the challenging cases, where it takes a lot of time to pick up the subtle details in the cells in order to give the patient the right diagnosis. I love that challenge and the responsibility we have to the patient. Of course, I also enjoy the interaction with the pathologists, colleagues, clinicians, and students. I also enjoyed very much participating in international cervical cancer screening projects in Cervi Cusco, Peru as well in Trichy, India.
- Do you have any interesting cases that you have encountered in your practice that stick out in your mind?
LOTS! Especially cases where I felt very strongly about the diagnosis in spite of a lack of biopsy correlation. Therefore, I always tell the students, be humble, but if you know the criteria, the patient’s clinical background and have been thorough in making your diagnosis, be confident in it. There are also many cases where I have been baffled. Many times I could not ever get an answer because the patient died or went elsewhere. Those types of cases haunt you, wondering what it was and what happened to the patient.
- What is the most rewarding thing that has happened to you in cytology?
I think the most rewarding thing is the number of students I have trained! (From 1976-2014 with a few small gaps). It is what I look at as possibly my legacy, what I have left behind. The thing I am most proud of is the students I have trained (at SUNY, Thomas Jefferson University, and Albany College of Pharmacy/Health Professions) working in many states in the US. I always look forward to seeing my students and hearing how well they are doing in the profession.
- What do you value most about your membership in the ASC?
The ASC is our organization. There is camaraderie between the cytopathologists and cytotechnologists and a helpful nature of the people in our professional community. The Annual Meetings of ASC provide a great forum for learning new and emerging knowledge in cytopathology and for fostering and renewing old friendships.
7. Do you have a memory from the ASC that you would like to share?
The Educators’ Forum stands out because it was a great opportunity to share what I know and to learn so much from my colleagues. Also, I really enjoy the New Frontiers Lecture when they bring in professionals from other specialties, which gives us an opportunity to understand disease processes including malignancies more comprehensively.