Ernest James Nelson Jr., M.D.

Ernest Nelson, Jr, MD

Hometown: Albany, GA

Name of Undergraduate Institution: Morehouse College

Major(s)/Minor(s) in College: B.S. in Biology, with a Minor in Neuroscience

Name of Medical School: Medical College of Georgia

Residency ProgramCombined Anatomic & Clinical Pathology – Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

Favorite Quotes:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” – Benjamin Franklin

“You gotta go inward to experience the outer space that was built for you.” – Pharrell Williams


Where are you currently at in your career path and why did you decide to pursue this career path?

I am currently a PGY-1 Pathology resident with an interest in Neuropathology. To preface the story of my journey, I honestly did not know much about pathology as a specialty until I started medical school. Ever since I was 8 years old, I knew I wanted to become a physician. I was very intrigued by the brain and had plans to become a neurosurgeon or neurologist. During college and as a first-year med student, I explored the reality of practicing within those particular specialties via shadowing, attending interest group meetings, and speaking with current residents. However, I soon found that the study of neuroscience and the clinical practice within those related specialties did not gel together like I expected they would. Simultaneously, I unexpectedly developed a love for histology during M1 Year and was intrigued by how pathophysiology at the cellular and genomic level manifested as disease. I was also fortunate enough to have a Pathology interest group at my med school, which was headed by the 2nd Year class dean. He made an announcement to attend the initial meeting to my class, and after attending that meeting and getting an introduction to the pathology, I just knew that specialty was for me.

I love how pathology is the bridge between clinical medicine and basic science research, and our further understanding of the body and disease is largely being driven within this field. During the latter half of college, I had several amazing opportunities to conduct basic science research during the academic year and summer. I always wondered how I could meld my interests in basic science research and clinical medicine, and pathology turned out to be the perfect fit for me. I think it is fascinating to thoroughly understand patients at various levels of depth, from their physical exam findings all the way down to their molecular profile, and how all that information can provide the best care for them. I also appreciate how pathology is so vast and I enjoy being able to understand pathophysiology across all body systems and specialties.

If you could go back and have a chat with your naïve college freshman self, what would you tell him?

I think the best advice I could have given myself as a freshman in college is not to limit yourself to the plans and opportunities that YOU think are best for you. I also would tell him to allow yourself some grace for changing your career plans and be flexible with your plans and vision of what practicing medicine looks like. I think that I could have benefitted from having a more open mind and really giving various opportunities that came my way a solid chance. I think that we can sometimes get so locked into our plans for ourselves that we may miss out on career-changing experiences or sources of inspiration that we never expected. I also strongly believe that one should think outside the box when it comes to his or her dreams and know it’s alright to forge one’s own path.

What advice would you give to a medical student looking to pursue a similar path as yours?

I think the one thing I would tell anyone pursuing pathology is not to do it for superficial reasons. There are many stereotypes about pathology and the types of people who go into the field that are grossly untrue, and I would not base my interest in the specialty on that. I think that anyone interested should take time out to experience what pathology can be as a specialty further than walking specimens from the OR to the frozen room. I strongly advice that one shadow a Pathologist when he or she has time and even do an elective in pathology to have a better understanding of the multifaceted role of pathologists, the settings they work within, and how they interact with the rest of the clinical team.

What advice would you give to someone getting ready to start their application process to residency?

I think that anyone applying should not comprise on their vision of what they want out of training and a career for the sake of allowing programs to hear what you think they should hear. Also, dream big and apply as broadly as you can!

What has been your favorite memory so far in your career?

My favorite memories from residency so far are teaching in pathology labs at the Perelman School of Medicine and helping medical students understand what pathology is and what we do as Pathologists. I wish I had this more as a med student and I enjoy being able to do that for others. Also, Match Day will always be one of my favorite memories since starting med school!

What do you feel makes your specialty stand out from other specialties?

I think pathology stands out from nearly all other specialties (besides radiology) because we have a unique view point when it comes to how we care for patients. Obviously, a majority of Pathologists see a patient at the level of their histology, but I think it goes further than that. For me, pathology stands out because we ultimately help guide the treatment of patients and give more insight to whatever disease(s) they may be facing. Pathologists are also at the forefront of the frontier of personalized medicine and incorporating molecular and cytogenetic applications to patient care. Also, I think an aspect of pathology that is often seen as a downside is not being able to directly interact with patients. However, there are a few subspecialties in pathology where you do get to see patients, so I would not let that hinder you from pursuing the specialty.

What gives you the greatest motivation to get up every day to go to work?

I think my greatest motivation to get up every day is to help pave the way and provide access within pathology as well as medicine and STEM to all those coming up behind me who look like me, have a similar background, or have shared life experiences.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I think the best advice I have ever received is to have the courage to follow where your mistakes have led you and learn from them.

In an alternate universe, what career do you think you would be in right now if healthcare wasn’t an option for you?

In an alternate universe, I would probably be a journalist/critic for some area in the arts – music, film, theater, etc.

Who are some of your favorite musicians? Favorite books? Shows? Movies?

My favorite artist hands-down is Esperanza Spalding. Also, I like many genres of music including R&B/neo-soul, jazz, rap, alternative, gospel, reggae, and EDM.

This advice is excellent Ernest! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in depth with us and for giving us more insight into the specialty that you've chosen to establish a career out of! It's great to hear from someone in your field, especially since many people are misinformed about what a career in Pathology is like. Best of luck to you as you continue your training!

Health Career Spotlights Home Page

Posted on January 31st, 2018

Leave a Reply