“Each cell tells a story,” said Marissa White Daniels, ’09, explaining the life-changing assessments she makes. A surgical pathologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Daniels examines and diagnoses patient tissues and, if they are malignant, provides oncologists and surgeons with the information they need to determine the best course of patient care.

“I have the unfortunate job of diagnosing a lot of patients with cancer,” she said. “Sometimes they’re not advanced; sometimes they are. As the pathologist who’s looking at glass slides, the challenge is to make sure you stay connected to the patient even though you may never actually interact.”

Interested in medicine as a Richmond biology major, Daniels focused on pathology at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“With internal medicine, you’re often relying on laboratory values,” said Daniels, a member of the Spiders’ track and field team as an undergraduate. “As surgeons, you’re relying on appearance. The pathologist actually renders the diagnosis.”

After graduating from medical school, Daniels was a chief resident in anatomic and clinical pathology at Johns Hopkins and did a fellowship in surgical pathology, all while completing her proudest accomplishment — the birth of her son.

The challenge is to make sure you stay connected to the patient.

Daniels has seen cases some doctors have only read about in books. She recalled, for example, a patient undergoing immunotherapy treatment for cancer. When Daniels was given the patient’s slides, she discovered only scar tissue.

“The patient had a complete pathologic response, meaning that the tumor literally melted away and was gone,” Daniels said. “It was a quite remarkable response … and a very rewarding moment that I’ll never forget.”

Now an assistant professor of pathology specializing in general surgical pathology and breast pathology, Daniels supports her trainees’ development as professors and mentors did for her. “Fourteen-year-old Marissa could have never imagined that she would be capable of doing this.”