Dr. Kali Freeman knew she’d found her professional calling while going through rotations in medical school.
She’d always loved chemistry, and initially thought she’d become a pharmacist. She opted instead for medical school at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and enjoyed all of the rotations in the various specialties.
And when she did her rotation in Pathology, she loved it, as she did with the others.
“But at the end of the month when I was done, I was like ‘Awww, I wish I could keep doing that.’ With other rotations, even if I enjoyed it, when it was over, I was like ‘OK, it’s over, what’s next?’”
Dr. Freeman is now a full-time pathologist, and a Diplomate in anatomic and clinical pathology with the American Board of Pathology. She joined the staff of LVMC in August, specializing in Pathology, hematology and hematopathology.
She is in the job left vacant by Dr. Tomas Machin, who retired earlier this year after more than two decades as the hospital’s pathologist.
“The basic sciences are a core part of pathology, but also understanding physiology and pathophysiology and understanding that all the things we do impact patient care, even though it’s not directly interacting with the patient,” she explains. “We interact with other doctors, nurses, radiologists, techs, all day long.”
Dr. Freeman, who grew up in Minnesota, previously was the medical director of Indian River Medical Center in Florida. She has also served as medical director of the Department of Pathology at North Bay Healthcare in Fairfield, CA. and as a hematopathologist for Yosemite Pathology Medical Group.
She’s now affiliated with Mission Pathology Consultants in Santa Barbara.
“They have a really good reputation in the pathology field,” she explained.
She’s glad to have landed at Lompoc Valley Medical Center.
“I had been a solo pathologist in a small hospital before,” says Dr. Freeman, the married mother of two small children. “I really liked that environment. It allows the pathologist to really be involved in the care of the patients, directly in the lab and with other clinicians. Also, having the support of the big group in Santa Barbara is great.”
At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, she said she finds people are willing to work together.
“There’s not as many egos getting in the way,” Dr. Freeman said. “People really do want to provide good patient care.”
When most people think of the field of pathology, Dr. Freeman said they tend to think about CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) or forensics. But that element of pathology isn’t the career path she envisioned for herself.
Much of her day-to-day duties involves histopathology, or the microscopic study of diseased tissue. That’s crucial in a hospital setting because accurate diagnosis of cancer and other diseases requires histopathological examination of samples.
Throughout the day, she provides inter-operative consultations. That would mean interacting with a surgeon conducting a colon cancer, thyroid or skin surgery for example. By evaluating biopsy samples, Dr. Freeman can advise whether the surgeon was able to remove an entire area of cancer cells, for example. She may also do “gross examinations” of something removed from a patient, such as a colon, or breast section from a mastectomy.
She’s also responsible for interacting with the clinical laboratory, advising, for instance, whether a patient can receive a certain blood type from the Blood Bank.
When evaluating blood smears, Dr. Freeman can evaluate whether there are atypical cells or something unusual in a person’s blood.
“It is important to have someone on site,” she said. “We don’t interact with patients, but we are actually very involved in the care that the patient receives. Most of the decisions made when the patient is on the (surgical) floor, or getting ready for surgery, are dependent on their blood work.”
On the horizon, she expects, is the advent of digital pathology. That would, Dr. Freeman says, allow slides to be scanned and reviewed electronically.
“So, if a pathologist was in Lompoc, or Paris, you’d have access to the material,” she explained. “It would allow me to consult with other pathologists. If a tumor biopsy is unusual, I have to send the slides to someone else to review. Digital pathology would allow instant consults.”
In the future, Dr. Freeman hopes to train on bone marrow biopsies and aspiration.
“I’ll be able to perform the procedures, so patients would no longer have to go to Santa Maria or Santa Barbara for that.”